Jason Gottschalk headshot
Jason Gottschalk

For centuries, consumers have measured healthcare providers by one metric: clinical outcome. Today, as senior living becomes more healthcare-oriented, consumers no longer focus so narrowly on outcomes. They are tired of being treated as a number instead of a human being. They now expect the same personalized and frictionless service from healthcare providers as they experience at their favorite retail store or boutique hotel. This shift toward healthcare consumerism is growing, and expectations placed on providers are increasing.

So, what can you, as a provider, do to meet these changing consumer demands, keeping in mind that your approach in regard to healthcare may serve you in your overall approach to residents and prospective residents?

First, engage the consumer — whether a resident, patient, guest or family member — centrally in the process. Set the individual at the center of the decision process. Provide consumers with the necessary information they need to make quality decisions, and allow them to exercise as much control as they wish.

Secondly, seek to understand, and be able to accommodate, individual needs and preferences. The better you understand what is essential to a consumer, the more positive an effect you can have on the experience and the outcomes.

Engage the consumer

Most healthcare providers today offer an interdisciplinary team approach to care delivery, but they often forget to include the consumer. This approach to care delivery puts the focus on professionals providing a service rather than on the consumer managing the experience.

The paradigm must shift to a partnership model that engages the consumer as the primary driver of care. Healthcare professionals are experts in their respective care fields, but the consumer is an expert on his or her own life and needs. Ultimately, the consumer’s contribution to the process needs to carry equal value to the rest of the team. Only then is there a real partnership or shared ownership in the process.

You can cultivate shared ownership in the process through consumer education and empowerment. Teaching consumers — about available services, amenities, care plans, diagnoses, treatment options, procedures and personnel — will enable them to make better decisions and, ultimately, more informed contributions to the team. Likewise, empowering consumers to ask questions and assume shared responsibility for the management of their health will ensure them that you value their input and will lead to better overall outcomes in service and care.

In a recent Forbes article, Blake Morgan highlights consumers’ desire for education and empowerment. “What do patients want? They want healthcare providers who actually listen to them and show they care instead of speeding through their appointment. Patients want doctors who create understandable treatment plans. One survey found that 25% of patients don’t have a strong sense that their provider actually cares about them as an individual.” Providers help to create a sense of caring by engaging consumers as partners in the healthcare process.

Understand the consumer

Understanding what is essential to an individual consumer enables meaningful discussion. Providers cannot always predict an individual’s care goals. What matters to one individual may be completely different than what matters to another. The better a provider understands what an individual’s preferred outcome is, the more positive an impact they can have on the overall care experience. 

In a recent article in the Journal of Patient Experience, Lynn Ashdown, M.D., describes his own experience during a rehabilitation stay that explains why an understanding of the consumer is so important: “Members of the health-care team wanted me to use an electric wheelchair, as it would allow me to go further sooner. I, on the other hand, having been physically active my entire life, wanted to exclusively use a manual wheelchair, although that limited the distance I could travel independently. Maintaining as much physical activity as possible mattered more to me than going a longer distance. When my health-care team understood what was most important to me, we were able to move forward with common goals.”

This story is not uncommon in many long-term care and other healthcare settings. Providers often have relied on their expertise to guide plans of care and services. By including the consumer in the decision-making process and fully understanding that person’s goals, however, providers can implement more comprehensive and effective strategies that result in improved outcomes and higher satisfaction.

As you and other providers respond to an increasing wave of healthcare consumerism, you must continue to improve the customer experience. Today’s consumers want a personalized experience that is designed specifically with them and allows them the amount of control they desire. You can begin to accomplish this by deeply engaging and effectively understanding the needs and preferences of each individual.

Updated biographic information, January 2023: Jason Gottschalk is the founder of Vibrant Aging, a company devoted to helping older adults age well. Prior to Vibrant Aging, he co-founded a technology company that developed voice-first technology for seniors and was the executive director of a large life plan community in suburban Washington, DC.