The journey is often better than the destination


Last Saturday, my wife and I visited the largest nursery I have ever seen. This place (Countryside Nursery in Allendale, MI) has over 10 acres under one roof of flowers, plants, trees, and everything you could ever need to nourish and grow these to ultimate perfection. This place was so busy that they had three police officers directing traffic around the place! This nursery certainly fulfilled all our expectations… and then some!

Our visit to the nursery included two other couples that have been the best of friends with us for around 35 years. The day was filled with catching up with family stories, laughs, and unending needling. These couples are among the most wonderful people I have ever known and my life is richer because of them. I wish everyone had such friends in their life!

Our day made me think (again) that often, the journey is better than the destination. Despite the amazing nursery we visited, our day was a terrific one because we spent the day with good friends. We could have been driving 2-3 hours each way to visit a grocery store and it would have been a good day because of our time together.

How often do we get so caught up in trying to reach a life destination (graduation, marriage, promotion, debt elimination, retirement, etc.) that we simply keep our head down and try to get through the day? You have probably heard many versions of this… “If I can just get that promotion, my life will be better.” Or… “Once my mortgage is paid, everything else will fall into place.” Or… “I can’t wait until my kids graduate and get out on their own.” However, when you look too intently on the destination, you often fail to enjoy the blessings and fun that come with the journey.

Hopefully, I am enjoying the journey, though I have certainly entertained my share of goals and objectives throughout my life. When my days are finished, I want to truthfully say that my regrets were few. I want to be able to say that I enjoyed those days changing diapers, helping with algebra homework, and trying to juggle our finances. I want to fondly remember the good and tough times at work, the deadlines, and thriving despite bad bosses. I want to smile when I think of all the good times along the way. I want to cherish every day I have had with my wonderful wife.

Don’t get so caught up in the day-to-day routine that you fail to savor those good times that, once gone, will never return. As I have said before (check out this link:someday, the last time):

“Some day the last time really will be the last time.”

Take a pause today and look out the window as you travel along a road that you’ll never travel again.

Dear healthcare company: Do these things really benefit the patient?

hospital-sign copy

At this stage in my life and health, I think I can speak very competently about being a patient or end user of your pharmaceutical or medical device products. I have had multiple surgeries, take daily pharmaceutical products, have metal medical devices in my knee and back, sleep with your products, and, in short, am an experienced user of your products. In addition, I worked in your industry for 40 years, so I have that perspective, as well.

Today, I want to talk about things that REALLY matter to patients (used synonymously with end user). I know that many healthcare companies talk about their commitment to patients being first and foremost.  In fact, one large, old, established company has this first line in their corporate values statement:

“We believe our first responsibility is to the patients, doctors and nurses, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.”

However, do you really take this seriously? When you are creating your mission statement, crafting goals and objectives, and training your employees, is your first and primary focus really on patients?

I think I am speaking for many/most/all patients when I urge you to consider anew your true first priority. When you are contemplating key business decisions, do you really include patients as a key stakeholder before shareholders, the community, or employees? Do you believe that if you take care of your patients, every other aspect of your business will take care of itself?

Many healthcare companies have been criticized in recent months in the media for exorbitant pricing, supply problems, excessive executive salaries, inappropriate influence of physicians, and the pursuit of profits above all else. Most of these criticisms would have been tempered if those same companies were diligent in ensuring that the value of their products to the patient was unquestioned. When your products have unquestioned value, benefit, and quality, many of these other criticisms can be dispelled.

Let me discuss a few things to consider before you answer this question. I want to list a few activities that patients DO NOT CARE that you do. These things mean NOTHING to us when we are talking about our health, our lifestyle, and our ability to live a full and meaningful life. When a patient is in pain, all they really care about is getting relief. Certainly, we understand that you need to have satisfied, engaged, and involved employees. Of course, we understand that you are in business to make a profit. By all means, you have a responsibility to the communities in which you operate. Yes, we agree that you need to ensure that every employee has equal opportunities. However, we believe that some of you have drifted from your commitment to the patient. In your zeal to be all things to all people, you have forgotten your core purpose. Have you made an effort to tie these things (each of which has merits) to the patient experience? Let’s look at the “things that mean nothing” list, then I will talk about things that really DO matter to us.

Things you do that patients do not care that you do (keep in mind that these are just examples – there are probably other things you do, when carefully considered, could be added to this list):

  1. Political activism – Many of you seem to spend more time advocating for a particular political view or candidate than you do advocating for patients. We have political action committees, but do any of you have a “patient action committee”?
  2. Diversity and inclusion programs – Yes, we understand the intent with these programs. However, have you taken the time to determine if the value of these efforts in money and resources yields any benefit to patients? We appreciate your concern and effort on behalf of unmet needs, but please ensure that these efforts (which, for most of you, includes the staffing of entire departments and corporate structure) are yielding value that includes benefits for patients. From a patient perspective, we don’t care who you hire, as long as it is the best person for that particular job function. Just find a way to hire the best people, keep them motivated, and help them facilitate value and quality in the products we use. If these programs do have value, just ensure that the benefits to the organization also flows to the patient.
  3. Employee engagement activities – Again, we understand the arguments FOR these programs… happy employees are more productive, more innovative, and yield better results. However, when do you go too far? When do go so far trying to engage employees that you forget to engage patients?
  4. Sustainability – Most of you, by now, have very active sustainability programs (e.g., green, recycle, reduced carbon footprint, etc.). We applaud the intent. However, when it comes to relieving pain, curing disease, or improving our lifestyle, we don’t really care. Do what you can in the area of sustainability, but please ensure that these efforts enhance, not detract from the overall patient experience or impact.
  5. Non-value added packaging – We don’t need packaging with 7-color glossy print. Honestly, we throw out the packaging immediately after receiving our products. This is an area that you should work to differentiate yourself from others with value, not “bells and whistles” that do nothing, but add cost.
  6. Corporate branding and marketing – How many healthcare firms change their corporate branding each year? And, when they do, how many $millions are spent doing so. Sure, this may matter to other stakeholders (such as shareholders, investors, and industry watchdogs), but it does nothing to improve our experience.

There are a number of things you do that we truly do value and appreciate. Let’s look at a few of these (some of you should transfer some of your spending from activities listed above to these areas).

Things that really do matter to patients:

  1. Cost control – Finding ways to improve the cost for us is always appreciated. We do understand the need to recoup your R&D investments and turn a reasonable profit. However, it is always just as important to ensure that everything you do provides value and will ultimately benefit your primary stakeholders, especially the patient.
  2. Innovation – We appreciate your efforts toward continuous improvement. We appreciate pharmaceuticals that can be taken orally rather than injection. We appreciate the ability to spend less time in the hospital. We appreciate less invasive procedures. Innovation that improves the patient experience is always appreciated.
  3. Employee development – We understand the need to help your employees stay current, stay motivated, and continue making positive improvements to your products. Efforts spend to advance the capabilities of your valued employees ultimately will benefit us.
  4. Customer service – The availability of needed products and having individuals that can answer our questions is important. When you enhance the interface between company and patient, our experience is improved.
  5. Product quality – We expect your products to be of high quality and to do for us what you promise. Please ensure that you remain diligent in these areas. When cost cutting is needed, please look elsewhere before you jeopardize the quality of your products.
  6. Business continuity/compliance – Because we count on you and your products, your efforts to remain in business and viable are important. We have read too many accounts of products that had to be recalled or market shortages simply because companies failed to remain diligent or compliant. Efforts in these areas are important for us.

Please understand that the intent of this message is simple… it is important to occasionally ask the question, “If patients are important to our business, will this activity/program/project/objective provide a benefit to the patient. If not, is it really that important to do? Would our patients pay more because we do this?”

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to advocate for patients. After all, probably everyone reading this is also a patient or loves someone that is a patient. When you improve the overall experience for patients, everyone benefits.