SMPL Q&A is a blog feature in which we interview experts on all things relevant to branding, design and simplicity. In this Q&A, we speak with Lisa Kane, senior strategy director, about healthcare branding and the significance of a great patient experience. 

What challenges are hospital systems facing, and how can healthcare branding make the biggest impact?

Hospital systems are facing an incredible amount of change—consolidation, shifting reimbursement policies, fresh focuses on precision medicine and population health. It’s an evolving competitive landscape, and in the ever-changing world of healthcare, it can be easy to lose sight of the small things that make a big impact: simplicity of experience and employee engagement. These are the two pillars of patient experience.

Tell us more about patient experience—where should healthcare providers focus? 

Many healthcare organizations are actively working to make the patient experience more efficient and convenient. But often, internal structures prevent them from seeing how complex and fragmented that experience can be. As consolidation becomes more prevalent, this challenge only worsens, and that can affect our approach to healthcare branding. There are so many different groups within an organization that impact and manage various aspects of the customer experience: patient experience teams, multiple marketing groups, IT and patient services. Each of these teams has a different set of priorities, goals and KPIs—and all tend to act independently of one another. Internally, these structures make sense, but for the patient, the “big picture” is anything but simple.

For example, I have to log into two different portals for UCLA Health. My own medical record is accessible via one website and login, but if I want to view and pay my bills, I must log into a completely separate site. Once I’m logged in, there are multiple paths to take to reach the right billing system (hospital vs. physician bills). This inconvenient experience is frustrating as it is. Imagine if it were amplified by a recent acquisition where technologies were not yet reconciled or integrated—requiring me to log into three or four different systems to manage my care.

Everything—from the way services are named to the way-finding signs across multiple buildings, to multiple technology systems—must be integrated within the larger healthcare branding strategy in place to solve the patient experience challenge.

How have consumer expectations altered the way hospitals should serve patients?

People expect instant access to whatever they need, wherever they are. They have fundamental expectations for technology and for services, and they hold healthcare providers to the same expectations. Patients will always desire professional, high-quality care. But now they also require a simple, on-demand experience to manage their health and wellness.

A personalized and unified patient experience is what makes groups like One Medical so attractive and why so many organizations are considering bringing care outside the walls of a hospital into their communities. Even companies that were traditionally not care providers (e.g., retail pharmacies, insurance companies) are looking for ways to transform the accessibility of care.

In an evolving, competitive landscape where consumers have more choices, a better experience is critical to differentiating providers. This is where your hospital branding strategy can make a difference. Hospital systems must demonstrate that value isn’t just about successful outcomes—which is something most consumers take for granted unless there’s a truly life-changing medical issue—but also about creating simple experiences that meet people’s expectations when interacting with any other technology, company or service.

Employees at hospitals are a critical touchpoint for anyone seeking care—what is their role in patient experience?

As hospital systems consolidate, engaging employees is a challenge and a necessary call-to-action. Employees are the face of the organization, the people who deliver care or manage interactions with a patient. As organizations merge and consolidate, training becomes paramount. A successful hospital branding strategy should clearly define and communicate a brand promise that hospital employees can internalize, own and deliver.

When consolidation or reorganization occurs, it’s vital to ensure all employees are clear on the hospital brand values, promise and story. That’s because they have the greatest ability to influence and shift organizational culture, and equally as important, the patient experience. When all those elements are aligned, employees are more engaged and the patient has a more positive, seamless experience.

So what role does healthcare branding and the hospital brand play?

A hospital system’s brand is one of its greatest assets. It provides strategic direction for how the organization will interact with patients across touchpoints and a roadmap for aligning organizational priorities. Even when priorities differ among departments, the common language of “brand” is critical for ensuring that the patient experience remains consistent.

Internally, the brand is essential for rallying employees—particularly in times of change. It helps align clinicians, physicians and all staff with a common vision, inspiring the organization to collaborate on building a promising future.

There’s been a lot of talk about the importance of brand architecture, particularly when it comes to hospital systems—what is it and why is it critical?

This is where simplicity is truly key to the success of any healthcare branding strategy. All brand architecture is, really, is a set of relationships. It’s how each brand in an organization connects to one another to form a cohesive entity. A clear brand architecture helps customers/patients navigate a system and easily understand what it provides and how to interact with it. The end-goal is to alleviate frustration and maximize efficiency.

A clearly defined brand architecture for large healthcare systems builds awareness and equity in the system’s masterbrand. It allows the strengths of each of the system’s programs to be shared across the entire organization. The more clarity an institution creates around that connectivity, the more recognition the system masterbrand will receive for its breadth of exceptional and specialized offerings.

Lisa Kane is a senior strategy director at Siegel+Gale. Follow Lisa on Twitter: @LisaMKane03