3 ways you can begin to take patient experience more seriously

Seemingly everywhere you turn, patient experience is on everyone in healthcare’s mind.

Providers are aiming to understand what’s most important to patients: communication, service and access to care, to name just a few.

However, terms like “improved patient experience” and “patient-centered strategies” don’t clearly define what healthcare organizations should do to improve. This lack of knowledge can be an organization’s biggest hindrance, so providers must familiarize themselves with what’s already working and what lessons those cases have to offer.

Why it matters, in a nutshell

Providing a better experience goes hand in hand with better care overall. Deloitte found that hospitals with higher ratings on patient experience also have better scores for a handful of their clinical outcomes and for their process of care.

For example, patients who consider their episode of care a pleasurable experience are more likely to follow their physicians’ instructions and enjoy more positive outcomes, and hospitals that implement patient-centered strategies and receive higher rankings for patient satisfaction report fewer readmissions and lower mortality rates. Looks like what’s good for the patient is good for the provider, too.

Patient-first providers also reap financial benefits. It’s simply good business sense — a clear and transparent financial process, which is vital to a good experience, makes it more likely that patients will meet their financial obligations.

There’s data to account for this: According to the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, hospitals that have excellent consumer assessment ratings profit by a margin of nearly three points higher than hospitals with lower ratings. Not to mention that a better experience overall makes it more likely that the patient will continue receiving care from the same organization for life; on average, that can account for nearly $1.5 million, which an organization loses if the patient leaves due to a poor experience.

The negative effects of that poor experience multiply when patients recount their stories online. Around 32 percent of patients say the most important part of a hospital’s website is their reviews, which they believe paint a fairly accurate picture of the experience they can expect. Poor patient experiences not only affect patient health, but also have a direct impact on an organization’s bottom line.

Reaching new heights in the patient experience

So what does this look like in practice?

One Ohio organization, Mercy Health, provides patients with bedside tablets that give them instant access to view their own health data, medication information, treatments and interaction status. Tampa’s Florida Hospital introduced a new patient flow strategy that has reduced emergency department wait times by 10 minutes, despite experiencing higher ED volumes.

In Wisconsin, ThedaCare has implemented a completely collaborative model of care. Every patient is assigned a dedicated care team, including physicians, nurses, a pharmacist and a discharge planner. Most importantly, the team collaborates with patients and their families on a daily basis so that everyone stays in the loop. As a result, ThedaCare has improved patient satisfaction scores by 50 percent and readmission and mortality rates by more than 40 percent.

These are just a few examples, but creating a better patient experience is something any provider can do. If you haven’t already developed a strategy to become more patient-centric, these tips can help you get the ball rolling:

1. Think of healthcare as consumerism.
If the tenets of patient-centered care sound familiar, it’s because they’re the same tenets that guide modern consumerism. When people shop, they aren’t just looking for products; they’re looking for convenience, quality, personalization and transparency. That’s why online retailers, like Amazon, that have built their reputations on customer service are dominating many of retail’s most lucrative sectors.

The same is true with healthcare. These days, patients are responsible for more of their healthcare costs than ever before. Consequently, they’re as choosy with their healthcare as they are with any other purchase. To keep patients happy and returning for more care in the future, think of the patient experience as a practice in consumerism, with a heavy focus on convenience, transparency and comfort.

2. Make access to care a top priority.
Scheduling is often the first thing people list as a negative influence on their experience. As consumers, people don’t typically struggle to walk into a store or view an online retailer’s stock. Likewise, they won’t hesitate to find another healthcare provider if they can’t access their care teams. Fortunately, solutions like telehealth technologies and streamlined appointment setting software can help patients instantly access your organization’s services.

Besides time and distance, however, surprisingly high healthcare costs also hinder a patient’s access to care. Approximately 50 percent of low-income patients cite a lack of cost transparency as the main barrier to their care. By making costs of care transparent and easily accessible from the start, you can make healthcare more accessible to an enormous section of your organization’s patient population.

3. Frame the experience around patient comfort.
While patient experience is the result of many factors, a patient’s time spent receiving the care is the most influential. Because most patients experience some form of discomfort when they seek care, it’s important to make patient safety and pain management top priorities as well. Being attentive to the patient’s physical needs and making it easy to call for assistance go a long way in reducing a patient’s suffering, especially after complex care, such as surgery.

According to a recent study in JAMA Surgery, nearly 11 percent of surgery patients reported negative experiences due to complications following their procedure. Many of these complications can be avoided with a stronger focus on patient needs, and that focus is a natural result of better communication. Patients who feel comfortable enough to talk to their physicians about anything are more likely to experience greater comfort and a better overall experience.

Improving the patient experience is not an option. It’s critical for the patient, the provider and the entire healthcare system. Not every effort has to be on the scale of ThedaCare’s collaborative care model, yet the goal should be the same: to continuously achieve the triple aim of improving care, health and cost by enhancing the quality of every patient’s experience.

Marc Helberg is the managing vice president at the Philadelphia office of Pariveda Solutions, a consulting firm driven to create innovative, growth-oriented and people-first solutions. He has extensive expertise delivering strategic initiatives and brings more than 25 years of consulting and industry experience in helping Fortune 100 companies transform their operating models and achieve their business goals. Outside of the office, he enjoys scuba diving, photography, cooking and playing music. Read more about the work Pariveda does here.

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