Improving patient experience has become a challenge during the pandemic. After all, some patients are worried about visiting healthcare institutions and seeking medical care due to the fear of getting exposed to COVID-19.
This hesitancy makes it even more important for providers to increase their commitment to patient experience. Those not affiliated with healthcare may see the patient experience as just the time in between check-in and check-out of a doctor’s appointment or hospital stay. Not true. Patient experience is about far more than just this time period.
Before COVID-19, 73 percent of patients scored their patient experience as “very satisfactory.” However, a year after the pandemic, this rating has dropped to 60 percent. Thus it isn’t surprising that improving patient experience has been a priority for healthcare providers. 69 percent of healthcare providers saw a significant growth in their patient experience programs during the height of the pandemic.
What is Patient Experience?
Patient experience in healthcare is a broad term referring to the range of in-person and digital interactions patients have with a provider. It’s a vital piece of the healthcare puzzle with far-reaching implications from overall patient outcomes to health system finances. For example, stronger patient care experience is correlated with higher retention and higher hospital margins.
The problem is, as GE Healthcare Camden Group states, more than 80% of patients are unsatisfied with their healthcare experiences, and the happiest are those who have the least interaction with the system.
Reversing this troubling trend should be a top priority for providers and patient experience managers. The question of how to improve patient experience should always be asked by healthcare providers. The reality is that all patients want is peace of mind that things are as good as they can be.
Patient Experience and the Digital Front Door
In healthcare, the digital front door is a strategy leveraging technology to facilitate every point of the patient experience through increased convenience, ease-of-use, and transparency. From improving patient experience in primary care to improving the experience for those admitted to intensive care, each patient expects the same thing. They want their journey to recovery to be convenient, simplified, and transparent.
Where does the digital front door begin?
It starts from the moment someone decides to seek care. Your website is usually where the direct patient care experience starts. Healthcare providers should take extra care with their online presence since this is most probably their first contact with a patient.
Your website is one of the first places to start if you’re asking how to improve patient experience. “Even if the best doctor in the world has a bad website, I’m not going to become a patient — period,” says millennial Jordon Bishop. “Your website is the first point of interaction with many patients, and those first impressions go a long way.”
What makes a good digital front door?
Have a solid website. According to a Deloitte report on healthcare consumer engagement, more than 50% of potential patients search for providers online before interacting with health systems. As such, new business can hinge on perception of online presence, and 95% of healthcare marketing executives agree. A patient experience manager can shape this perception by investing in a user interface that’s simple to navigate, easy on the eyes, and gives the patients the information they’re looking for. In addition, live chat functions allow patients to ask questions online, on the spot.
Aside from having professional-looking websites, patients also rely on online reviews for reference when checking for patient experience and outcomes. According to a recent study, 80 percent of patients are very likely to be influenced by online reviews. Also, 78 percent of patients prefer providers with 4-star ratings or higher.
Be accessible 24/7. The ideal digital front door allows the patient experience to feel as if you’re always open — even at 3 a.m. About 60 percent of patients say “responsiveness to follow-up questions outside of appointment” is top priority. Make sure that you are accessible and responsive when working toward improving patient experience in primary care. These concerns don’t have to necessitate physical interaction. Patients may simply want to know if you’re accepting new patients or the location of their appointment the next day. These questions can be asked via website live chat, or through a texting platform with chatbot functions for automated after-hours patient communication.
With the rise of COVID-19 cases worldwide, the telehealth option has become a new normal for mild ailments. Telehealth presents patients with more options and more channels for communication. This translates to convenience and seamless patient-provider contact that improves both patient experience and outcomes.
Connection with patients is critical to the patient experience, and even more so for those who are hospitalized. In a study published in the Journal of Patient Experience, nearly 2/3 of patients admitted for COVID-19 have been feeling lonely because of visiting restrictions. On the lighter side, 94% of admitted patients said that their constant communication (through text, phone calls, and emails) with their healthcare providers have helped them get through this difficult time.
Convenience is the Key to Patient Experience
Healthcare ranks near the bottom in customer service. That’s a problem when patients function increasingly like consumers and are accustomed to apps that let them get food, rides, and even a new car at the touch of a button. They expect a similar level of convenience from their healthcare experience. In fact, a survey done by NCR Health shows patients value convenience and access to care more than any other factor.
Today, in a COVID-19 world, 70 percent of patients prefer virtual visits instead of seeing their doctors in person. People have adapted and grown accustomed to the convenience provided by mobile apps. So it’s only natural that patients demand the same convenience from their direct patient care experience.
For a better patient experience in healthcare, make convenience a strength by identifying pain points and opportunities to address them.
One of the reasons why the patient experience in healthcare often receives mixed reviews is poor communication channels. Unfortunately, many health institutions still hold on to these communication practices. No patient wants to wait for available phone lines to request an appointment.
Healthcare institutions need to understand that patients prefer faster and more responsive communication channels, like email or text messaging. Patients consider making phone calls a hassle and a waste of their time. Long phone calls, hold time and getting referred to different department always result in a negative patient experience.
Solution: Setting up Omni Channel communication hubs and Bi-directional messaging
Healthcare providers need to embrace modern communication systems. Healthcare institutions need to open up communication platforms that engage patients in their preferred channels. For example, patients prefer text messaging as it is faster and far more convenient compared to emails, video chats, and calls.
Note that text messages have a reliable 98% open rate and are responded to in 90 seconds or less. Several studies have also supported the trend of patients’ preference for text messaging in scheduling appointments and other health related concerns. Modern communication technologies provide convenience, and reliably enhance the patient experience.
To improve the patient experience in healthcare, healthcare providers need to evaluate their EHR or Electronic Health Records. EHR is a system to store patient data previously recorded in the form of paper charts. While they’re far better than paper in terms of keeping track of billions of data points, EHRs still pose a significant roadblock to patient-centric care.
The many downfalls of EHRs have been well documented, so here are just a few.
They’re a source of burnout and appointment delays. A single clinician can spend up to half a working day with the EHR alone. This eaten up time means providers are looking at a screen almost twice as much as they are at their patients.
When spending that much time in front of a computer, it’s natural to start looking for shortcuts, and the copy and paste function may be the worst of all patient experience examples when it comes to safety. Problems with this include reuse of non-current information like dates or times, pasting information into the wrong slots, and making it harder for providers to access relevant notes.
Solution: Employ medical scribes.
Ousting EHRs is not a viable solution. As such, system input still needs to be done. Medical scribes’ sole purpose is the data entry doctors never imagined doing with their careers. While there are difficulties with transcribing information without physically taking part in an interaction, this workload can easily be delegated to scribes so doctors can spend more time with their patients.
Transportation directly affects the chance a patient will make it to the doctor. According to the American Hospital Association, 3.6 million individuals forego medical care each year due to transportation issues including lack of vehicle access. In fact, for older adults, transportation is the third most commonly cited barrier to accessing health services. As health systems know, getting patients to the hospital door is half the battle and takes responsibility for as much as 28% of no shows.
Solution: Create a transportation partnership
Add a shuttle, ride-share, or ride-hail service to your list of amenities to improve patient experience and reduce no-show rates. A designated transport team that takes patients to their doctors have multiple advantages in improving patient care experience. This kind of service offers a huge convenience for patients who have limited access to transportation. Also, free transportations can help in streamlining patient flow and in cutting down wait times, ensuring that more patients are attended by their doctors.
This patient experience program will also positively impact the trust and satisfaction rating that patients give to their healthcare providers.
Nearly 80 million Americans have difficulty paying medical bills or debt. In the last 20 years alone, missed bills have contributed to over 620 billion dollars in hospital uncompensated care. Inability to pay may be the cause for some, however a McKinsey Quarterly survey suggests most people are willing and able to pay their bills.
Solution: Offer payment plan options.
One of respondents’ main reasons listed for failure to pay was due to lack of financing options. Taking a page from retail, an installment plan in this situation creates more wiggle room for patients. In the case of inability to pay, this would provide health systems with some money rather than a complete default.
Solution: Offer digital payment tools — 68% of patients want their providers to have them.
Unsurprisingly, patients prefer the seamlessness and ease of electronic payment as opposed to conventional pay-in-person methods. Settling balances via phone at the touch of a button brings the transaction to them. Not only will this improve patient experience, it could also reduce the likelihood of missed bills.
How to Improve the Patient Experience with Transparency
Healthcare finance company Waystar finds that lack of price transparency is responsible for more than 25 percent of patients’ negative experiences in their last hospital visit.
According to a survey by the Harvard Center for American Political Studies, close to 90% support a government mandate requiring disclosure of service costs and negotiated prices between payers and health systems.
On the surface, this seems like a viable step towards positive health care reform, but it’s merely a band-aid on more pressing issues such as financial health literacy and its impacts on the patient experience. We’re far from true transparency in that sense. Even so, there are still steps a patient experience manager can take to promote transparency and avoid blindsiding patients.
Add a bill estimation tool. Recent legislation requires hospitals to publish a price list of “shoppable” services on their websites, but that doesn’t mean patients know what they will have to pay. Bill estimation tools clarify uncertainty between total balance, out-of-pocket expenses, and insurance coverage. Knowing out-of-pocket expenses in advance impacts the chance of pursuing care for 62% of patients.
Make itemized bills available. Patients often don’t know what they’re being charged for when their bills show up with summary charges of huge fees. Patients have the right to get itemized bills listing specifically what services the hospital claims were administered. Since up to 80% of medical bills have errors, doing right by your patients means you let them know they can do their own verification.
Send billings and copay due notices. These can be sent before appointments so patients are aware of the costs and can be financially prepared.
Patient Experience and the Patient-Provider Relationship
Ninety percent of patients believe the patient-provider relationship is the most important part of a quality healthcare system. However, only 1 in 4 Americans say they have confidence in the healthcare system.
Trust in medical leaders has dropped by more than 55% in the last 50 years. Lack of trust in these interactions — and the system by extension— can lead to unforthcoming communication, skepticism of diagnosis, decreased compliance, and inhibited response to disease outbreaks. Addressing these issues requires focusing on the times patients personally interface with their provider.
A study published in the Journal of Patient Experience suggests that trust between patient and provider is a critical factor in delivering a positive experience and lowering patient anxiety.
Identify with your patients’ emotions
Is it possible to deliver a perfect patient experience? Unfortunately, “perfect” is subjective and every provider has their areas of improvement when it comes to patient experience.
Though there is no such thing as a perfect patient experience, you can still strive to deliver an experience that ticks most boxes, by ensuring that the whole patient journey to recovery is as comfortable as possible.
Patients want their providers to show more compassion. Good patient-provider interactions seem like an obvious and perhaps underrated part of positive patient experience examples. However, numerous studies show a strong link between levels of physician empathy and patient satisfaction. Satisfied patients have more trusting, higher quality relationships with their providers as well as increased self-efficacy — a crucial piece of active engagement in care. Provider empathy is linked to increased adherence to treatment plans and decreases overall healthcare expenditure by reducing follow-up services such as diagnostic tests.
Trust, compassion, and empathy lead to better outcomes that are intuitively tied to positive patient experience.
It’s clear trust, compassion, and empathy lead to better outcomes that are intuitively tied to positive patient experience in healthcare. But do providers actually lack it? The key is perception — 71% of patients believe their physicians lacked compassion towards them, according to a survey done by communications training company The Orsini Way.
Paraphrasing Dr. Thomas Lee’s words, “the irony is that physicians all think that we’re compassionate and the differentiator is technical expertise,” says Dr. Thomas Howell, Mayo Clinic’s director of patient experience. In reality, “patients assume that we’re technically excellent and the differentiator is compassion.”
Invest in provider-focused emotional education. Expressing empathy is a skill that can be taught, and in turn improve patient experience. Patients want to know if providers understand their pain as if it were their own, even if that involves helping them overcome fear of seeing a doctor in the first place.
Be there and do more for your patients. Breast cancer patients Jamie Kastelic and Dena Taylor mention a sense of humor, conversation between appointments via email, and receiving a nurse navigator to tackle information overload as things their doctors did that stood out to them. This humanity can go a long way even in the worst situations. Intensive care patient experiences, for example, can be improved when providers are there for their patients every step of the way.
Prioritize getting to know patients. A 2017 survey by The Physicians Foundation found 65% of patients felt their time with physicians was frequently, if not always, limited. Private practices have the freedom to spend more time with patients per appointment, but larger health systems should also consider how implementing this could boost patient experience and patient-provider relationships.
How to listen better
In person. Having eye contact, nodding, and asking follow-up questions let patients know they’re being heard and can open up.
Online. What are patients saying about providers on Google or Yelp reviews? This reputation can be seen by everyone on the internet. If there’s something negative, addressing it is the place to start.
Digital. Having a patient experience survey is already commonplace for health systems. But what if all that data could be analyzed instantly with actionable insights? A patient experience survey administered via text through vendors such as Calibrator Health provides the opportunity to start using data as a proactive tool rather than simply an end-result metric. This way, negative responses can be assessed and addressed right away with prompt personal outreach also via text. Non-survey responses from any bi-directional reply will be treated the same way with sentiment analysis tools. Imagine how the patient experience could change if nipping dissatisfaction in the bud within minutes rather than months became the norm.