Striped Toothpaste and Patient Access: More in Common Than You Think

Can a tube of toothpaste inform our access improvement journey?

Behavioral science provides evidence that consumers are influenced by their experience and many other factors related to purchasing decisions. Price is often cited as the most influential component of our buying decision, but many other determinants come into play. This fact led researchers to develop a "better" experience to encourage us to brush our teeth. Over the years, various components like fluoride have been introduced by toothpaste manufacturers, but perhaps the greatest innovation was striped toothpaste in 1955 by Leonard Marraffino. According to Aquafresh, the stripes represent concepts - tooth decay prevention and breath freshening, which produced the first two-striped toothpaste based on Marraffino's patent. As consumers, we rarely think about the stripes and certainly don't consider which color fights tooth decay and which freshens our breath. But the novelty propelled an entire era of influential consumer packaging - think about the laundry pods, for example. We can "see" the product at work, something that ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft took advantage of as well. When we log onto our app to call a car, we are not getting a different product (a taxi serves the purpose just as well), we are getting a different experience. As consumers, we love it. 

With this lens, it is not hard to determine why patients are frustrated by patient access. We remain heavily reliant on telephone calls. The telephone, by its very nature, offers a negative experience. It requires synchronous communication (ever miss the call from a doctor? My heart sinks!), and the entire transaction transpires verbally (ever fail to write down the appointment date and time? Who can find a pen?). Furthermore, the call is typically the end of the access journey for patients seen at an academic medical center. Days - or even weeks prior - a clinician informed them that they need to be seen by a specialist. That conversation jump-started the process -- the referral, the medical records, the authorization, etc., all happening behind the scenes. The patient must wait for the call. 

While seemingly simple, the companies that revolutionized consumer experience spent years working on their innovations. The striping in toothpaste, for example, is a fascinating journey related to science (read about rheology) and manufacturing. Improving patient access may not involve toothpaste, laundry pods, or ridesharing, but there is a science to it. We should draw upon the experience of other hard-fought innovations surrounding experience, particularly because pricing is often not a determinant for our patients' decision to select us for their care. Today, our experience leaves much to be desired. Access is largely a mystery to patients - and we are paying dearly for it. As we work to improve our internal processes, we should focus on illuminating the journey for our patients to make it more colorful, flavorful, and transparent. Let's make the patient experience the foundation of our access improvement efforts. 

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Comments on "Striped Toothpaste and Patient Access: More in Common Than You Think"

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Kimberly Labay - Thursday, February 16, 2023

Great insight! I have heard (a few times) in business that some decision makers include something at the table that represents the consumer/patient, this allows consideration for their journey and experience. Thanks for sharing Elizabeth!

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