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From Disney to doctors: The uncommon path of a patient experience leader

The notion of consumer-driven healthcare can be a hot-button issue for many in the industry. While some healthcare providers are hesitant to see patients as consumers, the reality is that patients are increasingly seeing themselves that way. They judge healthcare against interactions in other areas of their lives and expect the same level of service and experience from their doctors.

To get an insider’s perspective on why there is a need for an industry-wide shift in thinking about the patient experience – and more importantly, how to encourage that shift – we interviewed Kevan Mabbutt, Senior Vice President and Chief Consumer Officer at Intermountain Healthcare in Utah.

Fueled by wanderlust and curiosity

Born in London, raised in the southern African country of Zambia, and previously employed by the likes of BBC, Discovery Channel, and Disney, Kevan is not your typical healthcare executive. While his career has seen him take on a variety of leadership roles in far-flung locales across the globe, one thing has remained constant: his desire to understand what makes people tick. “I am kind of nosy by nature,” he said. “I can professionally call it curiosity, but really it's nosiness.” This inquisitive disposition has afforded him an acute awareness of the importance of the consumer experience, regardless of industry. Today, he applies his expertise at Intermountain Healthcare to improve the patient and member experience and help reshape the concept of consumerism in the industry.

Lessons from the happiest place on Earth

Before joining Intermountain Healthcare, Kevan served as Disney’s Global Head of Insight and Experience. There he helped expand the entertainment giant’s perception of guest satisfaction beyond isolated on-property visits. “They didn’t think a whole lot about why you didn't come in the first place or how you thought about Disney for the rest of the year, nor was there a big push to understand what guests really wanted,” he said. “There was this proposal to re-imagine the Walt Disney World experience with augmented and virtual reality and other exciting techy stuff and I said, ‘Hang on a minute. Have we really understood the consumer need here?’”

As it turns out, guests wanted more and easier access to the experience that was already there, not a new experience. The challenge was to address friction and pain points in the transactional aspects of a theme park trip – purchasing tickets, securing accommodations, mapping attractions and activities, and strategies for avoiding lines. By encouraging his colleagues to listen to the voice of consumers and consider their needs more holistically, Kevan was key in the creation of the My Disney Experience website and app, as well as Magic Bands, both of which streamline and enhance the vacation experience from start to finish.

“It then became a very different proposition. It was all about solving problems, not enhancing the rides, shows, and character experiences – things they didn't care to have enhanced.”

Not-so-different worlds

While the guest pain points at Disney parks and hotels may not seem relevant to healthcare on the surface, the connection is obvious to Kevan. “I always feel like we overemphasize the difference of healthcare in healthcare. It's a bit myopic and insular. The consumer is the same – and their needs are surprisingly similar too. The people we serve in healthcare go to Disney. They go on flights with Delta. They shop at IKEA. They’re the same consumers, so why on Earth should we have them expect less from their healthcare experience, which is arguably more important? We need to adopt a similar approach to these companies to understand what matters most to our consumers and address their needs and pain points, just as we did at Disney.”

Kevan believes the word consumer itself is partly responsible for the reluctance of healthcare organizations to adopt a consumer-centric mindset: “People think it sounds corporate and cold and commercial. But we’re all consumers, whether we like the label or not.” A common argument he hears is that patients aren’t consumers because healthcare is a necessity – a person typically doesn’t choose to be in the hospital, for example. “Consume doesn’t mean choose,” he pointed out. “It means use. Consumers are everyone we serve.” Based on his own experience living among wildfire evacuees in California, those people didn’t choose to trade their homes for hotel rooms, he explained, but that shouldn’t mean their hotel stay should be second-rate. It’s not about choice.

So what can healthcare organizations learn from Kevan’s work at Disney? Put yourself in your patients’ shoes and help them connect the dots along their journey. “See the experience through their eyes, through their experience. You can own certain moments, but you’ve got to be thinking of what came before and what comes next. We expect patients to navigate our silos and org structures and they can’t. We need to connect the dots – digital and in-person – to create a seamless experience.”

Embracing the human element

Kevan suggests forgetting the semantics and thinking not of consumers or patients, but simply people. “Healthcare has always been about meeting people's needs,” he said. “But we managed to convince ourselves that it's just the clinical that matters. That somehow humanism and consumerism are these extremes that could never, ever meet, no matter what happens. In fact, they are very aligned.  Consumerism is all about understanding and meeting people’s needs. This of course includes clinical needs, but also emotional, psychological, functional, financial, and a host of other needs. These are all part of the experience. This is not a zero-sum game.”

While Kevan doesn’t discount the need for rational, evidence-based thinking in healthcare, he challenges his colleagues at Intermountain Healthcare to balance that thinking with respect to what makes us human: emotion. “Emotion is always present in any experience. Focus on it and measure it where you can.”

Kindred spirits partnering to transform patient experience

Kevan’s obsession with consumer experience became a natural fit with Qualtrics’ specialization in experience management. He has a shared desire to make the world a better place beyond the boundaries of legacy approaches. He especially values the variety of industries in which Qualtrics works, as that insight and way of thinking can be used to improve healthcare. “We've convinced ourselves that certain survey questions repeated over many years, benchmarked across the system of healthcare as an industry, is the right way to go – despite our consumers constantly changing. The growth mentality that drives Qualtrics is exactly what healthcare needs,” he said.

Words of wisdom

Kevan’s advice to other healthcare leaders? “You've got to have a change mindset because the consumer demands change. We've got to go outside our field because our consumers live most of their life outside of healthcare. That’s where most of the clues about consumerism in healthcare lie. Understand people’s lives in ways that traditional patient surveys will never tell you about. If you want to make things better, you have to start somewhere different.”

Take action on the moments that matter with a complete view of the patient journey

Qualtrics // Experience Management

Qualtrics, the leader and creator of the experience management category, is a cloud-native software platform that empowers organizations to deliver exceptional experiences and build deep relationships with their customers and employees.

With insights from Qualtrics, organizations can identify and resolve the greatest friction points in their business, retain and engage top talent, and bring the right products and services to market. Nearly 20,000 organizations around the world use Qualtrics’ advanced AI to listen, understand, and take action. Qualtrics uses its vast universe of experience data to form the largest database of human sentiment in the world. Qualtrics is co-headquartered in Provo, Utah and Seattle.

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