When Colleen Prescott woke up, she noticed that the muscles on the left side of her face were weak and drooped.
A week earlier, she had undergone major abdominal surgery and was still heavily sedated with pain medications. She didn’t want to spend half an hour on hold trying to reach her doctor. She needed an answer and fast.
Her provider had recently implemented WELL, allowing her to easily text the office. Moments later, a nurse responded and urged her to go to the emergency room because her symptoms mirrored those of a stroke.
“I wouldn’t have called my doctor and sat on hold for half an hour — I probably would have just ignored it,” Prescott* says. “Texting allowed me to reach out quickly and get an answer right away.”
Patient experience begins before the appointment
Patient experience begins before an appointment even occurs — for Prescott, it happened while she was still at home in bed.
A 2017 study conducted by the University of Utah found that patients value the ability to schedule a timely appointment, convenient access to their provider, and a reasonable wait time significantly more than actual time spent with their provider, the availability of specific treatments, and the actual quality of care (e.g. absence of medical errors).
“In focus groups and in survey feedback, patients told us they don’t necessarily want to spend more time with their provider — they want to be heard,” the study’s focus group observed.
Nevertheless, according to research published by Sage Growth Partners, a Baltimore-based healthcare consultancy, only 39 percent of health system C-suite execs report using text messaging to improve patient experience. Even fewer are texting patients with truly conversational bidirectional messaging, so patients can actually text you back.
Better patient experiences lead to better outcomes
Research consistently confirms that positive patient experience correlates with better health outcomes. A study published in the journal Circulation in 2010 found that patient satisfaction was positively correlated with 13 of 14 measures of success for treatment of heart attacks. Additionally, for every 25 percent increase in patient satisfaction scores, there was an equivalent 25 percent change in predicted survival.
The researchers concluded that patients are good discriminators of the type of care they receive — when they don’t have a good experience, they don’t fare as well.
Results are similar for patients with chronic conditions. For example, diabetic patients who report better communication and overall experience with their providers also have better blood sugar control and fewer functional limitations, according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Better patient communication yields better experiences
When Prescott landed in the ER, she was quickly diagnosed with bell’s palsy, or idiopathic facial paralysis. It’s not as serious as a stroke but not something to ignore either — in some cases it can result in permanent contraction of the facial muscles. The sooner it’s treated, the better the prognosis.
“If I hadn’t texted my doctor and received treatment immediately, I could have a permanent nerve damage and a lifelong facial deformity,” she says. “Being able to reach my doctor quickly made all the difference.”
Patient experience is good for business
Cultivating positive experiences makes sense for patients and for providers. Here’s why:
- Patients are five times more likely to select a practice where they had a positive experience than one with a strong consumer marketing presence, according to a 2018 Press Ganey report.
- Hospitals with better patient experience ratings tend to have 50% higher profit margins than average hospitals, Accenture research found.
- Similarly, a 2016 Deloitte study found that hospitals with excellent HCAHPS scores had an average net margin of 4.7%. Hospitals with low scores had average margins of just 1.8%.
- A Vanguard Communications survey found that 96% of online patient complaints center around customer service — not quality of care.
- 72% of patients use online reviews to guide them to a new doctor, a Software Advice report states.
- 51% of patients would switch healthcare providers if it meant they’d receive great customer service, according to an Accenture report.
- Good patient experience is associated with lower medical malpractice risk. On a scale of one to five, with one being “very poor” to five being “very good”, every point increase in score reduces the risk of malpractice by 21.7 percent.
- Efforts to improve patient experience also improve employee satisfaction and reduce turnover. Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago launched a patient satisfaction program that resulted in improved staff satisfaction, productivity, internal and external recognition, and a 4.7 percent decrease in employee turnover.
- Positive experiences contribute to increased patient retention. Happy patients are three times more likely to remain in your practice than patients who have the poorest quality relationships with their providers.
For Prescott, being able to quickly and easily reach her provider not only resulted in a better health outcome but also yielded fierce patient loyalty.
“The experience was so positive — just what they were able to do for me without me really lifting more than a finger to reach out — I’ll be loyal to them forever,” Prescott says.
*name changed to protect patient identity
Never miss a story.
Get expert tips on communicating with your patients straight to your inbox, and improve your patient experience!
Pamela Ellgen is WELL’s Health Editor. She began her career in community journalism at The Asian Reporter and later covered business at The Portland Tribune. She is the author of more than a dozen published books and a graduate of Washington State University.