The new paradigm of patient relationship management

For the times they are a-changin’.” Though Bob Dylan wrote this famous song lyric back in 1964, it couldn’t be more applicable today—especially in the healthcare industry.

After all, health care is changing—and patients are changing the way they seek and receive care. Specifically, they’re beginning to exhibit many more consumer-like behaviors than ever before.

And the fact that major consumer brands are entering the healthcare market is only amplifying these behaviors. Thus, providers across the care spectrum must be prepared to meet the needs of these new patient-consumers—and it all starts with understanding the evolving patient care journey. That journey—what I like to call the “golden thread of health care”—is key to delivering the best possible experience to every patient at every touchpoint.

In this new paradigm, you, as a provider, must actively engage prospective patients who are searching for care by exceeding those patients’ expectations from the very first touchpoint. And in this day and age, that touchpoint most often occurs online. Furthermore, once a patient does seek out your services, it’s a big mistake to assume that he or she will be satisfied engaging with you only during scheduled visits. Today’s patients expect the same level of customer service and individualized attention they get from purveyors of non-healthcare goods and services—and if you don’t deliver, then they’re willing to go elsewhere.

So, to ensure you’re able to retain your patients—and keep new ones coming in—you must understand the behaviors of the modern patient-consumer. That way, you’ll be better equipped to market your services, enhance the likelihood of a successful outcome, and foster long-term loyalty.

Spotting the New Path
Do you know exactly how your patients came to be your patients? Traditionally, it’s been through some sort of referral—from another provider, a trusted family member, or the patient’s insurance carrier. But many patients are now taking their healthcare decisions into their own hands, conducting online research to determine the best possible treatment route—as well as the best possible provider—to help them meet their goals. And that’s before they ever set foot in their physician’s office—if they do at all. This is especially true for specialists and preventive care providers.

These patient-consumers are perusing Google and Yelp reviews, social media commentary, and online forums to help them decide which provider is right for them. They’re also evaluating things like proximity, amenities, how easy it is to find your contact information, and how well your website answers their questions and gives them a feel for what they can expect when they visit your office.

To be clear, a patient’s journey does not begin when he or she walks through your doors; it starts well before that when the patient first begins searching for a solution to a problem. This represents a major behavioral shift, and it’s one that providers must take into account to be successful in the long-term.

Tip: Get to know where your prospective patients search for solutions to their health issues, the questions they have during the search process and how well your website addresses those questions. Try putting yourself in your patients’ shoes—and asking current patients about their healthcare search process. Also, be sure your practice is easy to find via a simple Google inquiry.

Delivering an Unforgettable Experience
With the proliferation of high-deductible health plans, today’s patient-consumers are shouldering a greater portion of the cost of their care—and they want to feel like they’re receiving the value they’re paying for. Thus, the patient experience––which extends from the very first interaction your practice has with a patient to to the last––now matters more than ever before.

According to a qualitative study conducted by the Journal of General Internal Medicine, one-third of participants cited “physician factors” as one of the main reasons they avoided seeking medical care. Specifically, interpersonal concerns topped the list. While you may not be able to please every patient, providers have more control over positively influencing patient perception than they may realize—and ultimately, it’s your responsibility to deliver the best patient experience possible to every patient, every time.

Consider for a moment your patients’ entire experience with your practice—everything from how they’re greeted when they call to learn more or schedule an appointment to whether or not their provider takes the time to build rapport before diving into a discussion of symptoms or a clinical explanation. Regardless of what setting you practice in, does each patient have your undivided attention once he or she is in front of you? Are you taking the time to adequately address the patient’s concerns? Does he or she receive a thoughtful follow-up after you meet face to face?

Tip: Although delivering high-quality clinical care is still your top priority, you should also think through all of the tiny touchpoints that, together, can greatly impact the patient experience. Are there small changes you can make right now to improve that experience?

Closing the Loop
I was a practicing physical therapist for more than 15 years, and I know, all too well, the challenges of keeping patients engaged and committed to their care plans after they leave your facility. The traditional printed home care packets or handwritten instructions—plus a follow-up call in a week—left more than a few gaps. And as providers, we were left wondering whether our patients actually understood the information they received—and whether or not they were adhering to their plan as prescribed.

With models for payment and care delivery shifting to a more global, quality-driven structure, providers are paying more attention to what happens in between patient appointments—and even after discharge. Thus, consistent communication and engagement has become paramount. After all, when a patient feels cared for, connected and engaged, it can drastically change the trajectory of that patient’s care journey. Specifically, it can foster better outcomes at a lower cost—the very definition of value. Furthermore, this level of attention can mean the difference between satisfied patients and dissatisfied ones—many of whom may now take to the Internet to share their feelings about their experiences. For those providers who are reliant on repeat office visits—physical therapists, for example—this is also an opportunity to build loyalty and differentiate your practice from the competition.

Leveraging Technology
With an already jam-packed schedule, you may be wondering how you—or anyone on your staff—can possibly provide your patients with enough attention during, between, and after visits to ensure the best possible patient experience. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone; instead, you can leverage technology to do much of the heavy lifting for you.

In fact, there are really great tools available that help automate the engagement process––including everything from sending regular check-in emails and collecting feedback about a patient’s progress to monitoring the patient’s experience and requesting online reviews from pleased patients. These types of feedback loops are particularly important because they offer providers insight into the things their patients value as well as opportunities for improvement. Just remember that once you start asking patients to provide their honest feedback, they’re going to expect you to follow through on addressing it.

Tip: Find a patient relationship management (PRM) platform that enables engagement automation and establishes feedback loops, so you can adjust clinic processes and treatment plans in near real-time and thus, continuously improve the patient experience.

As providers, we have more control over the patient experience than many of us realize. To harness that control, though, we must follow the golden thread and ensure we are accounting for every care touchpoint, from the moment a patient discovers us all the way up to discharge—and, perhaps especially, beyond.

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