Healthcare RCM Leader Sutherland Uses Design Thinking and Patient Journey Maps to Empathize with Patients and Improve Customer Experience

We’ve all been a patient at some point in our lives, and illness aside, the experience is rarely pleasant. Many shortcomings exist in the myriad revenue cycle operations before, during and after treatment. Remember scrambling to find a local doctor who accepted your health insurance, was accepting new patients, was highly rated by his or her patients, and could see you quickly? Recall the stress of needing treatment but not knowing what your out-of-pocket costs would be? Or imagine the strain of trying to figure out how to pay an unexpected medical bill.

As important as care quality is, the revenue cycle is fundamental to understanding and enhancing the patient journey. Smart leaders don’t view collections as simply a business process to be optimized to reduce cost. Rather, they take into consideration the wants and needs of the patient and view collections as an opportunity to make a positive impression and build patient loyalty.

At Sutherland Healthcare, we marry advances in technology with a deep understanding of human behavior to transform traditional revenue cycle processes into a positive patient experience. To do so, we are tapping data analytics and design thinking, which puts the patient at the center through journey mapping and persona development. We then use the information and insight to leverage robotic process automation and omnichannel platforms, including Nordis Technologies’ Expresso customer communications management system, to deliver touchpoints tailored to appeal to different patients’ needs and wants.

Insights for your own journey:

Improving PX doesn’t require a trade-off with operational efficiency. In fact, just the opposite: Leveraging data on propensity to pay, communication preferences, and payment channel preferences improves patient experience while simultaneously lowering costs. For example, it costs just 13 cents to send a text versus $13 to make a phone call–and plenty of patients prefer a text reminder over a phone call. You need to discover patients’ preferences, then build them into your communications workflow.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. We’re holding more workshops to map patient journeys and designing action plans with clients who care deeply about patient experience. To find opportunities for improvement, we break down the patient journey into stages — pre-encounter, encounter and post-encounter—and document the patient’s pains and gains at each touchpoint. But patient journeys and subsequent improvement plans must be customized to address your organization’s culture, technologies and systems, processes, adaptability to change and other considerations.

We are reaching a turning point. Consumerism is driving fundamental changes in many industries, but healthcare has some unique challenges. We’re heavily regulated, especially regarding patient data. There are legacy business processes, some of which are contractual obligations, that need to change. Identifying and collecting good, historical data to train algorithms is hard. A-B testing is expensive and can raise ethical issues. But we are overcoming these and other issues by working with providers focused on delivering patient experiences that build loyalty, reputation and market share.

The digital future is now. While patients still want the option to interact with people, they are increasingly expecting more choice and convenience from healthcare organizations. It’s not nearly enough to simply offer an online patient portal. Patients want the same level of convenience from their health care providers as they get from Amazon or Uber with clever chatbots, simple self-service and voice-activated virtual assistants to schedule appointments, communicate with their doctors, refill prescriptions, make payments, and resolve issues.

Digital information and technology can help create the more personalized experience patients want — one that improves outcomes, increases process automation, and generates administrative savings through more granular, patient-centric, and coordinated care. That’s the future Sutherland Healthcare is building with its clients and partners.

About the Author

Avery Earwood serves as Digital Transformation Practice Leader at Sutherland Healthcare. His mission is to help clients navigate their transformation journey, maximize the value of their information assets, and use design thinking to engage and delight their customers.

Avery has spent more than 25 years in the healthcare industry. Throughout his career, he has led a variety of strategic initiatives for numerous tier-1 organizations, including: Deloitte, SAS, Dignity Health, and BlueCross. Prior to joining Sutherland, Avery served as Principal Analytics Consultant at Deloitte. In this role, he was responsible for assessing their analytics capabilities, identifying opportunities to monetize analytics, then recommending a strategy and platform design elements to accelerate adoption and differentiate the product line.

Avery earned a Master’s in Business Administration in Healthcare Management from Capella University. He is also a Certified Agile Scrum Master, Certified Agile Scrum Product Owner, Design Thinker, and LEAN Practitioner. When not consulting, he can be found wrangling alpacas with his wife and three sons on their family farm in North Carolina.

Avery Earwood