Patient Experience

A Guide on How to Improve Patient Experience

Anchor #introduction

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 so.

The 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 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. Really all patients want “is peace of mind that things are as good as they can be,” says Press Ganey chief medical officer, Dr.Thomas Lee.

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.

Anchor #digital-front-door

Where does the digital front door begin?

It starts from the moment someone decides to seek care. The very first door a prospective patient opens is your website, and it’s 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.

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 followup questions outside of appointment” is top priority. 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.

Anchor #convenience-key

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.

For a better patient experience in healthcare, make convenience a strength by identifying pain points and opportunities to address them.

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.

An 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.

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.

Anchor #transparency

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.

Anchor #patient-provider

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.

Identify with your patients’ emotions

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 it can go a long way toward a positive patient experience. Patients want to know 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.

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.

Prioritize patient experience for better outcomes and a better bottom line

Better health: good patient experience in healthcare has a positive impact on outcomes in numerous direct and indirect ways. It may be abstract and hard to quantify, but it’s worth health systems making the effort for it.

Related Resources

More Like This