Patient Experience: What is it & How to Improve it

Eric Welke Best Practices, Customer Experience, Dental, Guides, How to & Tutorials, Reputation Management, Small Business Leave a Comment

The healthcare industry is going through, and will continue to go through, massive amounts of change. Part of this is due to an increased focus on the patient as a consumer. This means that healthcare providers are being judged not only on the results of a medical procedure, but in the customer service aspects of how the entire process around that procedure is handled.

As Becker’s Hospital Review put it, the healthcare industry has moved from a “doctor knows best” mentality to one based on patient experience and satisfaction.

This is partly due to the development and reliance on Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) surveys for reimbursement rates for Medicaid and Medicare.

But it is also due to the increased availability of review websites such as Google and Yelp. These sites allow one patient’s perspective to be displayed across an entire market. All it takes is one patient’s negative review to turn away people looking for a new provider. The increased reliance on review sites and word of mouth marketing, however, can be a huge advantage to a practice that takes customer experience seriously.

All of these forces are causing the entire healthcare industry to focus on patient experience and patient satisfaction.

Patient Experience vs Patient Satisfaction

Patient experience and patient satisfaction are not the same thing, although they are often used interchangeably.

Patient experience, according to the Patient Experience Journal, is the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions, across the continuum of care.

This definition lays out the fact that patient experience is based on the patient’s viewpoint of all the touchpoints that he or she has with your practice. It also draws attention to the importance of your practice’s culture. If your practice develops a culture that is intentional about creating a positive experience, it will permeate through every interaction you and your staff have with the patient.

Patient satisfaction, on the other hand, is whether a particular patient’s expectations were met. Satisfaction is more objective than experience. Two patients can go through the exact same experience but have widely different satisfaction levels. This is because each patient is going to bring his or her own preconceived notions into the experience.

Don’t Focus on Patient Satisfaction

Patient satisfaction is an important aspect of any business, but especially in the healthcare industry. Patients that are unsatisfied could post a negative review about your practice or even file a malpractice suit. But focusing solely on making patients happy, instead of well, can be deadly.

Alexandra Robbins wrote about this problem in The Atlantic. She points out that, “by attempting to satisfy patients, healthcare providers unintentionally might not be looking out for their best interests.” And that, “an entire industry has sprouted, encouraging hospitals to waste precious dollars on expensive consultants claiming to provide scripts or other resources that boost satisfaction scores. Some institutions have even hired actors to rehearse the scripts with nurses.”

She continued writing that, “a national study revealed that patients who reported being most satisfied with their doctors actually had higher healthcare and prescription costs and were more likely to be hospitalized than patients who were not as satisfied. Worse, the most satisfied patients were significantly more likely to die in the next four years.”

So, clearly patient satisfaction should not be the sole focus of providers in this new consumer focused healthcare industry. Instead, focusing on quality care, and the experience throughout the entire process of that care, patient satisfaction will increase as a by-product of focusing on patient experience.

How to Improve Patient Experience

Patient experience should begin with the obvious. As a healthcare practitioner, you must provide quality care. That is your profession and the very basis of your business. Without that, nothing else matters. But there are other things that you can also do to improve patient experience.

It is important to say that you need to do some grunt work up front and to be intentional about any changes you make. Do not jump in right away with a major overall of your waiting room without knowing it will be worth the cost in an increase in patient experience.

Instead you should do some research and plan out intentional changes. There are a number of different things that can be done without redoing your waiting room that will have a quicker and more immediate impact on improving customer experience.

Patient Journey Mapping

One of the things to start with is developing patient journey maps. These are the steps that each patient will flow through from beginning to end. They will follow the same general path of pre-appointment contact (including marketing and your online reputation), scheduling an appointment, any pre-procedure testing or consultations, the actual care, and any post-op care or follow ups.

You should develop a few journey maps focusing on the different procedures your practice offers. A pregnancy will differ vastly from a rhinoplasty.

The journey maps should also be specific enough to see where each staff member could have an impact on the patient’s experience. Oftentimes, being intentional about mapping out the process and including your staff’s input is enough for a patient focused culture to begin to develop.

Once the patient maps are completed, you can look at each touchpoint and see how it can be improved. You should also be sure to focus on the process between each touchpoint.

Each interaction should flow into the next one and the handoff should be smooth. Improving the transition from touchpoint to touchpoint could be as simple as developing better communication so the patient does not need to answer the same questions over and over.

Patient Feedback

Customer mapping isn’t the only way to intentionally approach improving customer experience. Developing metrics and collecting data from your patients is also extremely important. It’s a good way to see where your practice can improve and to see how your practice is improving over time.

Your practice should develop both qualitative and quantitative data.

Qualitative data is more in depth such as focus groups or individual interviews with patients. This is normally accomplished through open-ended questions that get patients talking. The more feedback, the better you will be able to see where you can improve. Points of improvement can be very specific or very broad. But they are both important as you move forward developing better patient experience practices.

Quantitative data is structured so you can produce quick and hard facts as well as statistical knowledge, mostly done through surveys. Quantitative data can draw your attention to problem areas or to measure how you are performing across time and across a larger number of respondents.

Without developing patient feedback, there is no good way to judge whether your efforts are working.

Your Staff is Key

Lastly, but also most important, is focusing on your staff. By providing a positive and encouraging work environment, your staff will be better focused on providing care and ensuring patients are at the center of their work. By taking care of your staff, you will see an improvement in customer experience.

Ms. Robbins’ Atlantic article focuses on this aspect. She remarks that nurses are the key to improvements in almost everything stating “a better nurse work environment was associated with higher scores on every patient-satisfaction survey question.”

A happy staff will lead to better patient experience across the board.

Never Settle

Patient experience, in the end, is not just developing better processes or improving metrics. It is a way of approaching your practice with the intention of improving every aspect so you can better care for your patients physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Developing a culture that focuses on quality care and each patient’s experience means that you and your staff will always be striving to improve each and every facet of your practice. By doing that, you can be sure that patient satisfaction will increase and your practice will thrive in the new consumer focused healthcare industry.

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