Patient care tips to ensure a positive patient experience

Providing patients with a high level of care is a priority for most providers and support staff, but when it comes to their overall experience at your hospital, patients' concerns reach far beyond the basics.

Patients tend to consider every encounter with your practice, from calling and scheduling appointments, to filling out new patient paperwork, to actually seeing the provider, paying and exiting the practice. In some instances, this can even include any follow-up calls or scheduling that needs to be performed.

There are a lot of interactions to consider when attempting to create that positive patient experience. Let's look at tips to ensure each piece of the patient care puzzle fits into place to create a wonderful experience for every patient at your hospital.

1. Online experience

When patients find you online, as many do either by accident or necessity, their first impression is your website. Ensure a positive pre-scheduling experience by:

• Ensuring potential patients and current patients can tell exactly how to contact you in the first three to five seconds of visiting your website.
• Keeping your site free from potentially annoying distractions, like auto-starting videos, music and flash elements.
• Being certain your site gives clear instructions on performing tasks such as filling out forms, scheduling an appointment online or via phone, contacting the office, finding you on social media, the location of important information, etc.

2. Scheduling

The patient has found you online or via word-of-mouth and is ready to call and make their appointment. Oftentimes the front desk staff doesn't realize just how important their job is to patient relations, and ultimately the success of the hospital. The front desk staff lays the foundation for a successful relationship between practice and patients.

When a patient calls to make an appointment, their experience is based on the timeliness in which the call is answered, the tone of the staff's voice, the courtesy and friendliness of the staff and the ability of the staff to manage the patient's needs.

Follow these tips to set a positive foundation:
• Answer the phone in no more than two rings. Sometimes this means that even though answering the phone is primarily a front office duty, other staff members (excluding providers) should pick up the phone if they hear it beginning to ring for a third time. Patients take priority over job descriptions.
• Always smile when answering the phone. There is an audibly detectible difference in the tone of your voice when you smile.
• Remember to be courteous and friendly. A good way to ensure this is by having a standard phrase such as, "Good morning! Thank you for calling XYZ Hospital, this is Audrey, how may I help you?"
• Do plenty of listening to ensure that needs are managed and met. This does not mean that each question will have an answer, but it does mean that you will manage what you can and call them back promptly to answer any additional questions.

3. Arriving in office

When a patient arrives for their appointment, the first things they notice are the cleanliness of the waiting area and the demeanor and appearance of the staff member greeting them from behind the desk. Make this a positive piece of the patient experience by:

• Being positive your waiting area is clean and tidy by regularly straightening any playthings and reading materials, ensuring the area is free of trash and keeping any television volume and programming appropriate.
• Ensuring staff members are educated and follow simple dress standards. It is important to dress appropriately for your patient base, wear clean and pressed clothing, maintain hair and fingernails and ensure staff has professional look.
• Make a good impression with a friendly demeanor by having your staff mind body language, make eye contact, smile and use manners and pleasantries. Ensure front desk staff asks, "How may I help you?" instead of handing over paperwork or assuming they know why they are here.

4. Provider interaction

Sometimes providers get wrapped up in the idea that providing a positive patient experience is akin to letting the patients get what they want and telling them what they want to hear. That is not the case. Providing a positive experience is not providing an antibiotic when it is not appropriate, refilling pain meds over and over, or avoiding uncomfortable conversations about smoking cessation or obesity.

Providing a positive patient experience is taking the time to be kind and understand your patients beyond the data of their symptoms. Here are some tips to balance service and medicine:
• Use the patient's name when walking into the exam room, shake hands and get eye level with the patient.
• Listen. When asking a patient a question, give uninterrupted time for them to answer. Check back to ensure correct understanding.
• Watch for nonverbal cues and body language. This can be an indicator for a myriad of clinical and personal issues and even indicate the provider rapport with a patient. It will help providers and patients get the most out of the consultation.
• Watch your own body language. Avoid defensive poses such as crossed arms, evasive eye contact and fiddling.
• Be clear. Avoid using too much medical jargon. Start with laymen's terms and increase complexity as understanding is demonstrated.
• Stay focused. Avoid distractions including cell phones, tablets and laptops. If you must turn to chart something, explain to the patient why you are doing it.
• Be timely. Time is hugely valuable for patients and providers. Be apologetic and honest if a patient has been kept waiting.

5. Post-appointment

There are a few ways to set a hospital above the rest in terms of positive patient experience. One is making sure the experience after the appointment is positive, as well. One of the best ways to ensure this is to implement a call back policy.

Here's how it works:

• Any patient who comes into the hospital and sees a provider also needs a follow-up call in 48-72 hours. There may be additional follow-ups in place, but this call is to serve as a minimum.
• Be sure to ask the patient if they understood the instructions, referrals and diagnoses. Ask them if they had any trouble getting the prescriptions filled. Ask the patient if they need or have a follow-up appointment. Be sure and document this encounter.

This simple call back helps practices maintain ongoing relationships, demonstrates a level of caring for the patient and contributes to building a good rapport.

Ensuring positive patient experiences is not rocket science, but it is important to the success and health of your hospital's reputation, which can ultimately affect your bottom line. Besides that, having happy patients is just good medicine!

Audrey "Christie" McLaughlin writes for Quill.com. She is a registered nurse and the creator of Physicians Practice Expert, where she empowers medical professionals to grow their practices and better the lives of the patients they serve.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.​

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