I recently presented at the Beryl Institute conference on patient experience. While there, I had the pleasure of listening to a few of my fellow speakers like Fred Lee (author of “If Disney Ran your Hospital”), Al Stubbelfield (CEO, Baptist Health Care Corporation), Colleen Sweeny (Patient Empathy Project) and Tiffany Christensen (author of “Sick Girl Speaks”) plus a few others. One of the messages that were fairly consistently dropped was how different the patient experience is from customer experience.

In fact, Fred Lee suggested similar to the following… create a table with Patient heading one column and Customer on the other. Then start asking yourself how these two are different. You might get something like the following:

Patient Customer
Did they choose to participate? Forced to participate Choose to participate
What is the emotional motivation? Avoid suffering Seek pleasure
Do they have control of the experience? Loss of control Maintains control

The list could continue but the point has been made; this little exercise would seem to lead one to the conclusion that the patient experience is fundamentally different from customer experience. And this is true if one is focused on the actual experience of the individuals involved. I don’t have trouble with the notion that a patient is different from a customer of an amusement park, retail establishment and so forth. I do however have trouble with the faulty follow-on notion that patient experience might therefore be considered separate from customer experience.

The paradox is that customer experience accounts for these differences. It is ALWAYS true that the specific experiences of any given segment in any given sector tend to be fundamentally different on a number of parameters (as demonstrated above). So the paradox is that customer experience is outside-in in its approach and accounts for the differing rational and emotional expectations of the customer (however defined).

My caution and advice to the many patient experience directors out there is to learn the principles and approaches from customer experience. The principles of customer experience can be applied to any setting. Do not get confused by the fact that the actual experience a hospital provides is fundamentally different from the experience provided by a mobile telco. The paradox can be summed up in the following diagram:

While the shape and colour of specific experiences differ (ie, patient experience is in reality different from a retail like customer experience), the starting point for customer experience thinking is with the customer (however defined). Proper customer experience makes no grand statement about what all customers will like or dislike. What works beautifully for some will fail miserably for others. So the starting point is an understanding of the rational and emotional experience expectations of customers (however defined). After all, not all patients are created equal. It is quite easy to imagine that the experience expectations of a patient for minor cosmetic procedure might be entirely different than those of a patient for bilateral mastectomy and so on. The experience they perceive is in part dependent on what they think the experience should be and in part on what is actually delivered and how. When the experience expectations are fairly close to the current perceived experience, satisfaction will be high; when it is not satisfaction will be low. This is true for all segments and populations.

So is patient experience fundamentally different or similar to customer experience? The answer is paradoxical. The experience of a patient is fundamentally different from a typical retail based customer experience but it the principles by which patient experience operate are the same.

For a better understanding of the true principled definition of patient experience, click here.

Qaalfa Dibeehi is Chief Operating and Consulting Officer at of Beyond Philosophy one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experienceQaalfa is an international co-author of Customer Experience: Future Trends and Insights. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from offices in Atlanta, Georgia and London, England.