Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Patient-Centered Medicine-The Skyvision Story

It’s become quite fashionable to call oneself “patient-centered”. It’s rather trendy, in fact. Large, quite famous medical institutions now trumpet their new “patient-centered” care initiatives. The hiring of a “patient experience officer” is front page news in Cleveland. The airwaves are choked with advertisements from doctors and hospitals alike, beaming with pride and anxious for you to know that now it’s “all about you, the patient.”

What it really turns out to be is LIPSTICK ON A PIG.

It’s the same hospital with the same staff and the same processes. The same doctors are in the same offices and get paid the same way. A new paint job and new curtains cannot hide the fact that you wait just as long sitting in the same, old chairs in the same old waiting room. No amount of  advertising or re-branding is going to magically change a 1990 Mercury Sable into a brand-new Mercedes 500SL, and if you close your eyes  you still know which one is taking you for a ride.

Since when is “it’s all about the patient” news? Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? Do the doctor and the nurse have a job because a patient needs their care, or is the patient there so that the doctor and the nurse can have jobs? How many times have you wondered if that big, beautiful new $100 Million hospital wing is being built to handle all of the patients who must be turned away, or if the hospital will now embark on a campaign to find patients to fill that new, superfluous edifice? Or worse yet, if the $100 Million addition is simply a way to launder all of the “revenue in excess of expenses” generated by the “non-profit” hospital?

Medicine is the ultimate consumer service business. Even more so than any other service business because the people who bring you medical care have been entrusted by a patient to do some version of the next right thing for that patient; they have been trusted to put the care of the patient before their own care and feeding. We do a wonderful job of curing disease in the United States, but we don’t do such a great job of caring for patients, lost as we are in our zeal to care for diseases. Patient-Centered Medicine means looking at the curing of diseases from the patient’s viewpoint rather than the doctors’ or the nurses’ or the hospitals’.

Patient-Centered Medicine is all about the patient’s EXPERIENCE.

Enter Skyvision Centers, a unique take on eyecare built from scratch centered around the patient experience from the ground up. Two eye doctors, an ophthalmologist and an optometrist, left a very successful practice (where very high quality eye disease care is still being offered) to start something new. Something radical. Something truly focused on the patient experience from the very beginning. We had nothing but our names and our reputations. No patient lists. No accounts receivable. Heck, in the beginning we didn’t even have an address! All we had was a blank piece of paper with “Skyvision Centers” written on it, and a picture of a patient in the middle. We built our business around that patient and her experience.

Benchmarks? Sure! We went out and benchmarked Nordstrom’s and the Canyon Ranch Spa and the Ritz Carlton to learn about the best practices in customer service. We studied the mechanics of the Toyota manufacturing methods to learn about flow processes, accuracy, and safety. We built an office that allowed us to maximize our efficiency in a setting that looks and feels more like a boutique hotel or retail setting, with lobbies rather than waiting rooms.

Every staff member went on a customer service “field trip” where we ate lunch at a Holiday Inn and dinner at a Ritz Carlton. We witnessed three of our staff members experience a makeover at the Almay counter at Dillards, and then watched three other staff members ENJOY a makeover at the Bobbi Brown boutique at Nordstrom’s. We checked into a room at the Holiday Inn to have a standard hotel experience, and then checked in and spent a night at the Ritz Carlton. All of us. The non-doctor staff and their spouses stayed on the concierge floor, the docs in regular rooms.

And then we brought it all together and made it Skyvision! Our goal is for each patient who comes through the door to have an experience that is more like the Ritz Carlton than the Holiday Inn. More like Nordstrom’s than Dillard’s. We measure every step of the patient experience and constantly evaluate our customer service just like we evaluate and measure our medical outcomes. We agonize over each sub-par visit or less than stellar service evaluation.

Why? Well, why NOT? Where does it say that providing the best possible medical care with the best possible outcomes has to be coupled with less than the best possible experience? That the most important person in the process is anyone other than the patient? We’ve all seen the check-in process at a Holiday Inn and at a Ritz Carlton. They both work, but they sure feel different, don’t they? Why is it that the majority of check-in processes at medical offices and institutions feels more like a busy airline ticket counter during a storm than the front desk at Canyon Ranch? If the cosmetics cost the same at Dillard’s and Nordstrom’s (you know, like your co-pay for a visit), why is it that you feel so much better after shopping at Nordstrom’s?

We all took a financial bath in the first four years of Skyvision Centers. Hey, starting from scratch is hard! In the end, though, we created what is one of those very rare creatures, a true Patient-Centered Medical practice. It should make you wonder how much better your experience would be if all of those busy practices and all of those hospitals building their new wings took some of the money they are spending telling people that they are “patient-centered” and actually tried to put YOU in the center. We’re pretty much an open book. We’re happy to be the benchmark. Heck, we’ll even go along on their “customer service field trips”! This Patient-Centered Medicine is more fun to provide, too.

But until they do, until all of those folks advertising their all-new, all-you, “Patient-Centered Medicine” spend some time looking at the experience of receiving medical care from the viewpoint of the patient, all of us who are those patients had better pucker up.

The pig just got her make-over.

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5 Responses to “Patient-Centered Medicine-The Skyvision Story”

  1. August 25th, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Greg and Teresa Moe says:

    Amazing that no other best practices eye care center model existed for benchmarking purposes when Skyvision began. You now have created that world class model for all to imitate yet be impossible to replicate.

    Would have been cool to have taken your staff to Disney World; nothing like the world class service you get from Disney!

  2. August 27th, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Twitter Trackbacks for Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind » Blog Archive » Patient-Centered Medicine-The Skyvision Story [skyvisioncenters.com] on Topsy.com says:

    [...] link is being shared on Twitter right now. @darrellwhite, an influential author, said @andreajoycohen [...]

  3. June 9th, 2010 at 1:27 am

    Optician says:

    Great post!

  4. September 16th, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Stewart Froman says:

    you are professional.

  5. January 5th, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    Maureen Dunn says:

    Dr. W,

    This is by far my most favourite post of yours!

    LIPSTICK ON A PIG sounds just like our parent’s error. Love the story of how you all differentiated yourself from the “average” ophthalmology practice and specifically how you went about it. It applies to any customer focus, we are about the relationship not the transaction business though yes, you have someone’s vision in your hands.

    Great post my friend.

    :)
    Maureen

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