12.05.2013 - Posted By: Todd Yerman - Director of Business Development
As healthcare marketers, we preach empathy. But it’s hard to truly know what it’s like to walk a mile in a patient’s shoes, to experience our services as they do. And it’s understandable; healthcare marketers are busy people and it’s oftentimes difficult to see the forest for the trees. But this lack of insight can have a significant impact on patient communications, marketing, operations and more.
So how do we gain a deeper level of empathy, one that will impact the way we communicate with our patients? Certainly there are many answers to this question, but conducting a simulation exercise can be a particularly interesting and impactful way to discover firsthand how patients receive our communications and services.
Of course, simulation is a tried-and-true practice in the healthcare industry, but healthcare simulation is typically a tool for providers, focused on training, education and medical care. Adopting the model of simulation for the marketing and communications department is somewhat of a novel idea.
The type of simulation we’re advocating is a unique tool that allows healthcare system marketers a first-person, immersive look at the day-to-day realities of a patient in their system, a patient who is often under-informed, underinsured and operating under an abundance of stress. Here, marketers role-play as patients or family members, perhaps single parents trying to care for their children, or senior citizens trying to maintain their quality of life. Healthcare marketers will have a firsthand opportunity to navigate what, from the patient’s/family’s perspective, might be a confusing system of policies, procedures, regulations, insurance obstacles and medical decisions.
The beauty of simulation is that it enables participants to view patient services from different angles in an experiential setting, empowering them to reshape and improve communications with newfound perspective, empathy and firsthand experience.
So how do you begin?
Start by building a “simulation kit” containing:
- A director’s manual: Instructions detailing simulation design, operational details, logistics, a sample invitation letter and news releases
- Resource packets: Instructions and accessories for both patients (i.e., the marketing department) and the healthcare providers they’ll be interacting with along the way
- Scenario packets: Scripts for the patients/marketers who are actively taking part in the simulation, including presenting symptoms, insurance situations, family dynamics and other complicating circumstances. For added realism, we recommend these scenarios be inspired by experiences and feedback from your actual patients and their families.
- Score sheets: Allow participants to journal their experience, score patient experience from a communications perspective and make note of areas for improvement.
Run your simulation with a focus on a few straightforward goals and objectives for your marketing team:
- Explore the system and its communication touchpoints from the perspective of patients and families
- Identify and address obstacles interfering with effective communication
- Build strategies to empower patients and families to better communicate with their providers
As a team, review the results and build a plan of action. Start with the three biggest takeaways from your simulation exercise; those items will typically point you toward the strategies and tactics able to affect the most people and do the most good. Once you’ve had a chance to implement, reschedule. Running such an exercise each year or so will allow you to evaluate your efforts and make adjustments or address new challenges.
Have any of you tried simulation as a means to improve patient communication? Share your perspective – we’d love to hear your results.