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Steve Jobs and Good Medical Care

by Edward J. Kroger, MD, JD on January 20th, 2012

Steve Jobs created excellent, world changing technology products at Apple. He focused on one thing  throughout his career: the customer experience. Technology companies typically develop complicated products, then expect customers to be dazzled by the sophistication and complexity of their creations. Jobs first determined what would most satisfy a customer, then worked backward to force the technology to deliver a dazzling customer experience. Focusing on this fundamental principle, he grew a business started in his parent’s garage into a $380 billion company.

Similarly, physicians push themselves to deliver technically correct decisions and procedures, and expect patients to be pleased — without focusing on the patient experience. Patients are customers. In many patient settings, only a few minutes of time are spent with a physician, the rest spent in waiting rooms, filling out repetitive forms, talking with bored staff, sitting in uncomfortable chairs, and being forced to watch a loud television show they dislike with only three-year-old torn People magazines to keep their mind off their illness or injury. The average wait time for emergency departments is now over four hours.  Physician advice is often filled with complex words and delivered so quickly it is hard to remember.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Consider recent improvements in another place people wait: airport gates. Most terminals now have comfortable padded chairs, plenty of plugs for devices, and free Wifi. How about loaner iPads, perhaps with medical educational material or simply fun games installed? Current magazines that people enjoy reading? Could the television show closed-captioning with the sound turned off? Perhaps physicians should explain medical problems and procedures the way trial lawyers teach jurors: with hands-on models or creative audiovisual displays. For anticipated long waits, perhaps patients could receive a text when the doctor is ready? Are post-visit instructions given in a clear and attractive manner?

People don’t heal quickly enough. Patients are often less functional after injuries. Patients hurt. When bad results happen, as they do in every profession or business, patients have had ample opportunity to build up frustration or even resentment. They have had a bad customer experience. The vast majority of poor outcomes in medical care do not result in medical malpractice lawsuits. All medical malpractice lawsuits start with a frustrated or angry customer consulting a plaintiff attorney. Technical proficiency is not enough. Every health care practitioner and health care institution should take time to focus on the patient “customer experience”. Satisfied patients, repeat business and fewer malpractice lawsuits would be the result.

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