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Trust – A Distinguished Healthcare Trait (Part 2)

Healthcare in Iowa In my previous blog, I mentioned the importance of having Trust with healthcare providers. The implication of trust is far reaching – for employers, employees and their dependents, and also to the health care providers themselves.

In healthcare, like most other industries, quality of care should be no more than a ticket to entry to the marketplace.  In other words, having competence is the minimum threshold for ALL healthcare providers when serving patients. With this core competence, each provider can add to their “brand” (or reputation) by offering intangibles that will make a difference to their patients in a meaningful way.

As mentioned by Dr. Shore of Harvard, “A good organization produces excellent programs, products, and services. A great one – with a power brand – is TRUSTED to consistently deliver excellent programs, products and services that are PERCEIVED by consumers (patients) to be both RELEVANT and DISTINCTIVE.”

Consumers are willing to pay more for, travel farther for, wait longer for…a power brand.

Mayo Clinic is a prime example of having a power brand in healthcare. Mayo provides excellent service that is distinctive from other organizations. They transcend mere products and services that others cannot duplicate.

Few organizations in healthcare fully understand how to create an on-going power brand. They may advertise their quality – perhaps a national publication has included them in one of their quality rankings. But merely telling the public they have quality is very different from consistently demonstrating this quality over the long term by developing an emotional connection with the customer (patient). The power brand represents the DNA of the organization.

The healthcare industry must be careful to not be perceived as a commodity…though it is very easy to get caught up playing this game (look at the retail industry). When perceived as a commodity, providers are not easily distinguishable from one another by patients. Patients will make their choices on the basis of convenience or recommendation from a friend. Developing a power brand, however, will take providers out of playing the commodity game. Instead, they will be more likely to predict the future by creating it!

There is good news, however. Come back here next week to find out!

Supreme Smoke

Soon, we will be hearing from the U.S. Supreme Court on its’ interpretation of the health care reform law. Will it stay intact or will key features, such as the individual mandate and the expansion of Medicaid, be axed out as being unconstitutional? Or maybe the whole law will be axed?

Needless to say, watching for the Court’s upcoming decision is much like waiting for the black smoke signal to come from the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican (which means that a new pope has been elected). If we see white smoke, that means no decision has been made by the Court…causing even greater uncertainty. OK, maybe I am taking this analogy a bit too far, but hopefully you get my point.  This is a BIG decision – FOR ALL OF US!

Whatever the ruling, there will be great confusion for all employers. If the entire law is overturned, some interesting issues will most likely cause immediate alarm for employers and their employees.

One example is the $5 billion program under this law that partially reimbursed employers for the claims incurred by their early retirees (pre-Medicare eligible). This money has been distributed to employers who qualified for this reimbursement. If the law is thrown out, will those employers have to pay this money back? Don’t know. If so, this would be a very messy process.

The reform law also extended health coverage to employees’ adult children up to age 26 – generally effective on January 1, 2011. With this coverage, employees could add these newly-eligible dependents without being taxed for this additional coverage. However, if the law is overturned, this coverage may be considered taxable income to the employee – possibly requiring employers to send revised W-2 wage and income statements for 2011 to affected employees. Another messy process.

The above two examples portray a potential ugly retraction of provisions that have already been implemented since this law became effective in March of 2010. At this point, employers can only wait for the black (or white) smoke to appear.


The Currency of Commerce (Part 1)

Trusting Healthcare Providers in Iowa(Part 1 of a 3 Part Series)

Almost two years ago I attended a 5 day executive program at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.  This forward-thinking program, “Forces of Change: New Strategies for the Evolving Health Care Marketplace,” provided a very robust discussion on many salient health care topics that continue to evolve to this day. One topic in particular immediately grabbed my attention, and frankly, was THE main reason I attended this program.

The topic?  The trust crisis in healthcare.

I know, trust can be an overused word, but there is no denying the importance it has both in our personal relationships and in our commerce. I can think of nothing more sacred than the trust we place in those who provide physical and mental services to us when we become injured, sick or frail. What happens if we don’t have appropriate trust in our doctors, hospitals and other medical-related service providers?

A lot.

According to David A. Shore, the Harvard professor who organized “Forces of Change” and is the founding Director of the Trust Initiative of Harvard School of Public Health, “trust improves medical outcomes.” In fact, trust “is the #1 predictor of loyalty to a physician’s practice. Patients who trust their doctors are more likely to follow treatment protocols and are more likely to succeed in their efforts to change behavior.”

Here’s another interesting fact that comes from his books about trust, “Patients sue doctors and hospitals not so much for making a mistake – but for not being straight with them, for covering up, for refusing to acknowledge the error and apologize for it.  It is the breach of conscience that they are furious about, and that leads them to seek redress in court.”

Defining PATIENT TRUST in healthcare can sound something like this: Having trust in the clinical skills and knowledge of the physicians, the other professionals, and the service organizations with whom the patient comes into contact. It is confidence in the integrity of all these clinicians and organizations. And it is the confidence that, whatever else they may do, they will fulfill their role as the patients’ agent.

As Shore puts it, “Trust is the currency of all commerce.”

We continue in next week’s blog about the implications of having trust in healthcare.