Four critical areas for improving the patient experience

As we begin the year 2018, ideas on improving the patient experience continue to be a central issue for hospital administrations.

Per the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the patient experience is defined as “encompassing the range of interactions that patients have with the healthcare system, including their care from health plans, and from doctors, nurses and staff in hospitals, physician practices and other healthcare facilities.”

Proper patient interaction is the common denominator of all positive experiences, yet putting this ideal into practice often falls short of expectations. Why is this? Primarily because healthcare administrators struggle to balance the need for quality healthcare at an affordable cost. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, here are four critical areas for improving the patient experience.

How well do you know your audience?
If you were asked about the current rate of patient satisfaction with your healthcare organization, could you accurately answer? Once a patient is discharged, your role now shifts to following up, and surveying their experiences is a logical first step in determining exactly where you stand. But it’s also advisable to conduct surveys during patient visits. This simply shows a willingness to please, which is often absent during our more routine interactions. The likelihood of learning something you didn’t expect to hear about the level of care you’re providing is probably higher than you think. Catalog this valuable feedback and create a plan that addresses any shortcomings.

Work the floor
You know you are dining in a quality restaurant when a manager or even the owner visits your table. However briefly you may converse about your meal and the ambiance isn’t as significant as the presence it brings. What does this show you about the establishment? That the owner or manager takes enough pride in his or her restaurant to leave the kitchen and survey the diners personally. Customers inherently appreciate this type of commitment. Your patients will too.

Create better efficiencies
According to many patients, check-in procedures rank among the most stressful and poor experiences during an office visit. While many hospital systems have moved to online systems and notifications, check-in procedures should also be built in, so that patients have the proper amount of time and consideration to accurately fill out their medical history before their appointed visit. Doing so ahead of time also prevents patient backups during office visits.

Reform your billing system
An area of constant concern, hospital billing systems have become a routine target for dissatisfied patients. Whether deserved or not, hospital bills and their subsequent breakdown of patient versus insurance deductible/cost responsibility can often trigger poor perceptions. When inaccuracies enter the equation, a worst-case scenario lands your organization on the 6 o’clock news, 60 Minutes-style. Hospitals and administrators should work within their frameworks to create, implement and execute a transparent cost analysis in their billing arrangements and present this information to patients in plain English.

The quest to perfect the patient experience is, at its heart, about reforming healthcare delivery. As stated before, the focus should be centered on providing quality levels of care versus the cost of doing so. It becomes more crucial when some healthcare sectors are affected more than others. When profit margins are thin, the efficiencies gained by improving the patient experience can become a lifeline for an organization’s future. This is especially true in my area of expertise. Spine surgery is my core practice, where surgical implant costs are increasing at a time when reimbursements are shrinking year after year. Focusing your efforts on implementing a relatable and authentic patient experience is one factor that will always remain beneficial regardless of the size of your practice. It’s in your best interest to give it the attention it deserves.

About the Author
Dr. Jagannathan is a board-certified neurosurgeon specializing in cranial and spinal surgery with a key focus on utilizing the latest minimally invasive techniques. He is the owner of Jagannathan Neurosurgery, comprised of four clinical locations serving southeast, central and northern Michigan. He completed his neurosurgical training at the University of Virginia and Wayne State University receiving advanced training in both neurosurgery and orthopedic spine surgery.

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