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

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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.

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