Expert Perspective

December 09, 2020

What Practices Should Learn from Netflix

Joe Nicholson, DO – Chief Medical Officer

In the late 1980s and early 1990s—just as I was working my way through medical school and residency—Blockbuster Video was the country’s leading brick-and-mortar videotape movie rental chain. There was little to rival it until Netflix seized on the invention of the digital video disc (DVD) in 1998 to launch a competing online/mail-order DVD movie rental service.

At that time, Netflix was a mere David to Blockbuster’s Goliath. Blockbuster turned down chances to purchase or partner with Netflix. In fact, they didn’t even offer online DVD rentals until 2004. But Netflix kept pushing. By 2007, Netflix was among the earliest to introduce a video streaming service.

A few years later, Netflix swiftly responded to industry predictions that it would sink under an unpopular business move by shoring up customer satisfaction. The company continued to innovate, and now is creating its own award-winning, original content in anticipation of future competition. Today, Netflix remains one of the world’s most successful streaming services—while Blockbuster’s last company-owned store closed its doors years ago.

At its core, this story is all about taking a flexible, innovative approach to customer access and satisfaction. It is about the benefits of continually finding new ways to make it easier for customers to access what they want, how they want it.

To successfully retain and attract patients, practices must look at patient access in precisely the same way.

Think about it this way: Prevailing wisdom says the “normal” patient attrition rate is around 10-30 percent. Yet, according to an often-referenced Harvard Business Review article, businesses that reduce customer defections by five percent can boost profits anywhere from 25-85 percent. So, just as Netflix keeps satisfied customers by making movie access easy, practices can keep satisfied patients by easing access to care.

See access to care in a new light

Access to care is hardly a new subject or unique to the U.S. For example, in a 2002 article in the Journal of Health Services Research & Policy, researchers discussed health care access issues in the United Kingdom. But as the article suggests, there are varying interpretations of what “access” means.

Hospitals and health systems have “patient access” teams responsible for answering patients’ questions and checking them in when they arrive on-site. We see practices advertising “expanded access to care”— simply meaning that they’re open early, late or on weekends. COVID-19 has added a new wrinkle: What if both providers and patients are denied access to the physical locations where care is typically provided? The pandemic has starkly highlighted that patient access disparities are key social determinants of health (SDoH).

To thrive into the future, practices must be willing to broaden these definitions and—like Netflix—think outside the box when it comes to access. Patient access is much more than a check-in function or expanded office hours. Rather, it’s an opportunity to bring more flexibility into care delivery and to change the way practices engage with their patients.

Much like Netflix, practices that change the way they view patient access can enhance patient satisfaction and “stickiness”—leading to increased patient retention and attraction, and greater practice viability.

Think outside the box

The issue, of course, is that practices need strategies to enhance patient access and satisfaction without burdening providers and staff. Too often, providers assume “increased patient access” will mean an even more lopsided work/life balance for themselves.

However, flexible and innovative approaches to patient access may actually make it easier for both providers and patients to achieve a better work/life balance. Two places to start include partnerships and care delivery methods:

  • Develop partnerships. Practices can’t do everything on their own. However, building relationships with community partners can help address SDoH and deliver more “whole-person” care. For instance, practices can partner with both local long-term care facilities and transportation services to accommodate patients living in facilities who need help getting to their doctors.

    Also, consider how partnerships within the health care community can deliver more convenience to patients and strengthen the provider community at the same time. For example: One practice in Texas, inspired by the local health department, decided to offer drive-through flu shots for its patients. Partnering with a local school for medical office assistants, the practice trained five students to deliver the flu shots. The students now administer the vaccinations, which relieves the workload on practice staff. Furthermore, the practice also uses the drive-through clinic to follow up on their patients’ gaps in care. The service has become a cost-effective, win-win partnership that delivers immense patient satisfaction.
  • Examine your full suite of services; consider new ways to deliver them. COVID-19 has forced every practice to revamp operations. In the process, some innovative care delivery ideas have come to light. For example: This fall, recognizing people’s reluctance to come into the office in addition to the importance of flu shots, one ob/gyn provider is offering flu shots when women come in for annual well-woman visits.

    Another health care organization is encouraging telehealth dental visits for some cases of tooth pain that otherwise would have required visits to the ED or urgent care. Instead, patients can meet virtually with a dentist to get a care plan and any short-term necessary bridging prescriptions for pain medications prior to an in-person evaluation. So far, the service has a 67 percent patient satisfaction rate.

Being aware of what other providers are doing in the community can help practices uncover partnership opportunities as well as keep their businesses competitive.

Adopt a Netflix attitude

COVID-19 has opened our eyes by requiring all of us to flex our ingenuity to expand access to care. However, the story of Netflix and Blockbuster illustrates why we must continue the quest to find innovative ways to increase patients’ access to care, even after the COVID-19 dust settles.

Making health care more convenient for providers, patients and patients’ caregivers should improve outcomes and increase satisfaction. Like Netflix, practices willing to think creatively and add value for their patients are more likely to see demand for their services increase—and practice growth along with it.

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