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Thoughts from a Commodity

Posted By Brandon Parkhurst MD, Monday, May 4, 2015

From the perspective of the patient, healthcare is a commodity. I’ve spent the last 15+ years of my medical career getting my head around that statement and coming to an understanding of it. Today I accept it as fact. Commodities are exchangeable one for another. From the perspective of a patient, the technical aspects of treating high blood pressure, or asthma, or heartburn, or even having a hip replacement or heart bypass surgery are going to be based upon the diagnosis and aren’t going to change much from one provider to the next. I was smart enough to get into, and through medical school, but otherwise I don’t know how to prescribe blood pressure medicines in a way that’s wildly different from anyone else. The experience of a patient receiving care from my practice is the only thing that sets us apart from everyone else.

As it turns out, in this age of decreasing physician and medical provider autonomy, I do control, or at least significantly influence, the experience of receiving care from me! I control my priority of placing my patients’ medical needs before everything else. I can insist on my patient not leaving my office until I know that patient understands what I’ve said, the diagnosis, what signs/symptoms to watch for, the follow up plan. I can model patient-centeredness and raise the performances of those who assist me and are integral to my practice. I can work to ensure access to my care is meeting my patients’ needs. We can all demonstrate empathy and caring.

A patient’s experience is of the highest priority when the service one provides is a commodity. As Pine and Gilmore wrote in their landmark 1998 article Welcome to the Experience Economy, commodities are interchangeable and experiences are personal¹. When I provide an optimal experience, my patients should not only be healthier, for a wide variety of reasons, but should also be more loyal and more likely to return to my care. They might even promote my care services to their friends, promotion that is surely good for business. In general, providing optimal medical care and a positive, memorable experience for my patients is good for my patients and good for me.

As I’ve been writing this blog, I’m reminded of the difficulty of delivering an optimal patient experience and truly patient-centered care. A colleague just sent me a link to an article dated April 17, 2015 and published in The Atlantic. The title of the article is "The Problem with Satisfied Patients.”² The article is well written yet falls into the trap of treating patient satisfaction and patient experience as synonyms. Improving our patients’ experiences isn’t about satisfaction, happiness, or scores; improving our patients’ experiences is about understanding, collaboration, patient-centeredness, and most of all, personalization to the one situation we are a part of at a given time. Improving patients’ experiences isn’t about turning hospitals into 5 star hotels or restaurants; improving our patients’ experiences is about tailoring care to maximize every patient, resident, or family’s ability to Flourish³ and enjoy life on their terms.

My medical expertise is a commodity, yet the experience of receiving that medical expertise is unique to me. I firmly believe that providing an optimal experience of care improves the lives of those with whom I interact. I will spend the rest of my medical career seeking to improve their enjoyment of life and seeking to make their experience of receiving care from my medical practice, optimally positive and personal.

¹ Pine II, J. and Gilmore, J. (1998, July). Welcome to the experience economy. Harvard Business Review ² ³ See Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York, New York: Free Press


Brandon Parkhurst is the Assistant Medical Director of Patient Experience for Marshfield Clinic and splits his time between the practice of Family Medicine and leading patient experience improvement. Brandon was born and raised in rural north Missouri where his parents and grandparents consistently taught him that you do right by people because it’s the right thing to do.

Tags:  healthcare  Interaction  medicine  Patient Experience  physician 

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