Improving the Patient Experience
Today’s healthcare environment is challenging. Physicians in private practice are being eaten up by larger medical groups and waiting over an hour to see a physician is becoming the norm instead of the exception.Many healthcare providers have become accountable care organizations (ACO). An ACO is a healthcare organization characterized by a payment and care delivery model that seeks to tie provider reimbursements to quality metrics and reductions in the total cost of care for an assigned population of patients. One quality metric that everyone is talking about is patient satisfaction. Patient satisfaction is a measure which is arrived at when data is collected. The patient experience is much more personal.
I’m not a healthcare professional. I’m a patient like many of you who are reading this blog. For most of my life, I was a healthy patient who visited a medical office for a routine physical, a prenatal visit, or to get a prescription. Seventeen months ago, I had a stroke. It’s a long story but to keep it brief let’s just say the patient experience was awful. It was awful in the ambulance, it was awful in the Emergency Room when the ER doctor misdiagnosed me and sent me home, it was awful when I went back to the Emergency Room a second time in another ambulance and waited more than six hours in the ER to get a room, and the bill was really awful! Thank goodness, I fully recovered from the stroke. My symptoms disappeared and the Chief of Neurology told me to take a daily aspirin for the rest of my life. He also told me that I probably recovered because I was physically fit.
The entire patient experience was awful and it should not have been. There are many simple things healthcare organizations can do to improve the patient experience. There are patient touch points as the patient moves through their healthcare journey. Each touch point is an opportunity to create an exceptional experience for the patient. I met a number of exceptional healthcare providers when I experienced my stroke in 2014 but I did not experience a smooth journey.
Healthcare is a business and just like other businesses, the customer has a choice. The biggest difference with the healthcare journey is that nobody chooses to be a patient, it just happens. People make a conscious decision to stay at a Ritz Carlton instead of a Holiday Inn. People do not choose to be diagnosed with cancer instead of diabetes. It just happens. What healthcare professionals routinely miss is the idea of creating a positive patient experience for every patient, every time, at every location. Listed below are a few ideas to improve the patient experience. This list is not all inclusive but it is a starting place.
Before the patient arrives
Hire competent and compassionate employees at every level from the phone team to the clinical providers.
Talk about the importance of the patient experience every day.
Answer patient phone calls promptly.
Make it easy for the patient to schedule an appointment.
Have a competent person answering the phone.
Offer plenty of parking spaces or valet parking.
Tell the patient where to go for the appointment (building, room number, floor).
Tell the patient which insurance is accepted.
Call to confirm appointment(s).
Share patient satisfaction data with your staff and fix any broken processes or recurring issues that annoy your patient.
Train your employees to use empathy. The Cleveland Clinic produced an exceptional video, Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care, which has been viewed in more than 200 countries.[i] Show the video to your employees.
During the patient experience
Display empathy every day, with every patient.
Welcome the patient with warmth and caring. Patients are often nervous and anxious when visiting their doctor.
Make the check in process easy.
Be aware of patient privacy during the check in process.
Offer amenities during patient wait time.
Offer complimentary, current educational material to the patient.
Greet the patient by name.
Dress professionally. At some healthcare organizations it’s hard to tell the difference between the cleaning crew and the nurses, everyone has scrubs on.
Acknowledge any person who is accompanying the patient.
Thank the patient for choosing you as a provider.
Speak highly of your medical team – “Ann will be in to draw your blood. She is one of the best nurses that we have.”
Speak highly of your employer.
Share recent medical updates with your patient.
Find out what your patient likes and dislikes. Make a note in their medical record so you will remember during the next visit.
Make eye contact, especially if you are using a cart with a computer resting on top to record notes in the EMR.
Keep the patient informed if there is any wait time.
Look at the patient’s chart before going into the exam room or hospital room.
Be respectful and mindful of patient privacy. Use gowns when necessary and drape them appropriately, especially with women visiting ob/gyn.
Provide a clean, comfortable environment.
Listen to the patient.
Explain to the patient what is happening in simple terms. Avoid medical jargon.
Explain to the patient what kind of follow up treatment is required. If someone is accompanying the patient, make sure the other person understands the follow up as well.
If the patient does not speak English, get a translator.
When filling a prescription, let the patient know when you will call the prescription in to the pharmacy.
Provide healthy food for patients.
Escort the patient to the exit or tell the patient how to exit.
Improve the hospital discharge process. It takes too long.
After the patient experience
Call to follow up on the patient.
Call with test/lab results.
Send an easy to understand invoice.