Before Marketing, Test Your Hospital User Experience

Put yourself in your consumer’s shoes.

Have you ever approached your hospital as a consumer or potential patient? What you learn from this user experience test could help you positively impact the patient experience. Users of hospital services are not experts in the field, so when and how we communicate with them needs to take that into consideration. It doesn’t hurt to remember that when a consumer is out of her element or a little overwhelmed by a health concern or test, it’s nice to have a care team available for guidance.

Recently, I needed to schedule my annual mammogram. I chose a local hospital, since it’s convenient and offers 3D screening. Here’s how my experience went, and where I saw room for improvement.

User Experience Check #1: The Hospital’s Website

Like most consumers, I went to the website to find the scheduling phone number. But it was ridiculously difficult. I finally found a number for women’s services, called it, and was transferred to general scheduling. I felt frustrated and considered making my appointment at a dedicated imaging center I’ve used in the past. Why did a simple task like scheduling need to be so difficult? As a marketer, I wondered how many consumers were lost at that moment.

User Experience Check #2: Staff

I assumed on arrival I should go to the women’s center. Wrong. I needed to go to registration. It would have been nice to get an email the day before suggesting an early arrival to accommodate for the extra time. When I made it to registration, although the desk was fully staffed, most of the volunteers were not as knowledgeable as they needed to be. Consider who acts as the face of your organization. Does a business staff their front desk with people who don’t know what to do? Are volunteers trained and friendly?

On the flip side, the radiologist who performed the screening and the person who handled my registration were professional and well-trained.

User Experience Check #3: Wayfinding

The guiding principle for signage should be to get your customers into the building and where they need to go as quickly and with as little frustration as possible. Visit your hospital at different times of the day and evening to assess the experience. Or, better yet, ask a friend or other resource. I once worked with a hospital that placed a greeting sign in their lot to welcome customers to the facility. Another system used secret shoppers to assess the patient experience for inpatients and outpatients.

As I made my way to the center for my appointment, it took me a minute to figure out where the door was since they were artfully disguised. Why do that? Another patient in the waiting area commented that she had difficulty finding the door, too. At least it wasn’t just me!

User Experience Check #4: Every Detail Matters

When I was called for my screening, I was handed a gown and shown to a private locker and changing room. Prompt, nice, private. But as I fastened the gown, I saw a clump of material on it. Naturally, in a hospital, your thoughts go to the worst possible things. I requested a new gown. The technologist apologized, provided a clean gown and calmly explained what it might be. Her manner alleviated my concern (mostly), but a focus on details could have eliminated the situation.

User Experience Check #5: What to Expect

As I mentioned, the technician was experienced and the exam went fine. As I left, I was told they’d contact me with my results in a few days and then I’d receive a written letter. After a few days, no call, no email. I started to wonder. About a week later, I received the all-clear letter, but by then, I was a little worried. If I had received a card on the way out or a follow-up email to set my expectations, my patient experience could have been improved.

Although a hospital’s staff performs the same action day after day, consumers often come in once a year and are unlikely to remember what to expect. Put yourself in the mindset of your consumer and walk through the experience. You might be surprised at what you find.

Kathy Selker
I’m Kathy Selker. My work as CEO of Northlich, a Cincinnati-based healthcare marketing agency, has taught me a great deal about how hospitals and health systems can best connect with women to make the most positive impact in their lives.

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