5 Design strategies to improve your patient experience

Experts do not always agree on the value of patient-reported surveys. Some believe that patient satisfaction accurately reflects the quality of their care, while others believe the surveys have no correlation with patient outcomes.

What is undeniable, however, is that customer experience has become one of the most significant factors for success in all industries, and healthcare is no exception.

Consumer expectations are evolving as on-demand services such as Lyft and Airbnb continue raising the standard for high-quality, personalized experiences. According to Forrester Research, 72 percent of businesses say improving their own customer experience to meet that standard is their top priority. By contrast, the Beryl Institute reports that only 43 percent of doctors consider improving patient experience a priority at all.

Unfortunately, any healthcare organization that ignores the value of patient experience does so at its own peril. Not only are patient expectations evolving, but scores from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Health Providers and Systems survey could cause hospitals to gain or lose up to two percent of their Medicare reimbursement.

Given the financial stakes and the impact on quality of care, improving patient experience should be a central part of any healthcare system’s long-term strategic plan. When done correctly, improving patient experiences will also correlate to providing patients with better outcomes.

Giving patients power over their healthcare

With HCAHPS scores being tied to Medicare reimbursements, healthcare systems that have not previously worried about patient experience will have more incentive to do so. Nevertheless, patient experience is about much more than revenue; it’s about fulfilling medicine’s primary mission of helping patients live healthier, happier lives.

Satisfying experiences lead to happier, more engaged patients. Engaged patients will ask questions, follow advice, show up for appointments and take their medication as recommended. This all leads to better outcomes. Better engagement also means patients will become more educated about their health, which benefits them and the healthcare system by empowering patients to keep a closer eye on their well-being.

Because family members are often closely involved in a patient's healthcare, improving patient experiences must take them into account as well. Hospitals that engage family members help them become integral caretakers long after patients leave the hospital.

The power of patient experience and engagement is evident throughout healthcare. For instance, Kaiser Permanente and Humana have been rated the top two health plans in the industry due to the exceptional patient experiences they provide through their digital hubs.

The truth is that consumers already demand a better experience from nearly every organization they do business with. Between archaic websites, poor communication and confusing processes, many patients get so frustrated with the experience that they switch doctors or hospitals.

In fact, studies show that 67 percent of consumers have taken their business elsewhere due to poor experiences with a company, and people are more likely to change doctors than they are to switch airlines as a result of a bad experience. Patients are gradually realizing that, as consumers of healthcare, they have the right to demand the same good experience and personalized service from their doctors and healthcare systems.

5 steps to implementing a better patient experience

The patient experience is more important than ever, and healthcare organizations are beginning to realize the importance of improving those experiences. To do that in a smooth and painless way, there are a few steps you can take to improve patient experience in a healthcare system:

1. Empower clinical leaders.

Teach clinical leaders to think about experience from a design perspective. A lack of expertise or technical ability does not mean that finding creative solutions is impossible. Once leaders understand the problems and recognize the stakeholders involved, they can partner with outside experts who specialize in the types of solutions needed.

2. Encourage discussion.

Encourage every department to communicate with each other. What can one department learn from another to optimize patient experience and workflow in both departments? The more you deconstruct the silos, the more ideas will flow and the more cohesive the experience will become across the entire system.

3. Interact with the front line.

Ask the assistants, nurses, technicians and doctors — the "boots on the ground" — what's working well, what's not and what can be improved, both from a patient experience and workflow perspective. Hospital staff members know better than anyone where the painful inefficiencies lie, where the experience is subpar and how best to streamline workflows so they can concentrate on providing better care.

4. Brainstorm improvements.

Set aside meetings for staff members to focus on brainstorming improvements together. Collaborative discussion will help each department benefit from staff improvements, and those improvements can trickle down to benefit patients as well. Happier, less stressed staff members equal happier and more engaged patients.

5. Talk to patients and family members.

Learn about the experience for both patients and their family members, who are often critical to the patient’s long-term care. You can learn more about how patients view their experience with your health organization, then discuss what you learn with hospital teams and leadership to determine how to improve the experience. It's important to get multiple perspectives — a family member might have great insights that even the patient doesn't see.

Implementing a better patient experience isn’t something that can be done overnight, and there will be challenges along the way. Some people may be resistant to change, and a lack of relevant skills and engagement among front-line stakeholders can also make it more difficult to implement new procedures. Finally, hospital staff members are busy, and they often don’t have time to research patient problems or discuss solutions. But with some internal investment upfront, the payoffs will help alleviate the heavy workload and improve everyone’s experience.

Patient experience is too often deprioritized and given only rudimentary lip service. Fortunately, more healthcare organizations are realizing that it’s way too important to ignore, and improving patient experience through design thinking is highly achievable for any organization with the right drive and leadership.

Kevin Yamazaki is the founder and CEO of Sidebench, a leading digital product and venture studio that creates custom software and apps for clients across healthcare, finance, entertainment and consumer product industries. As a passionate solutions architect and product designer, Kevin is driven to create. Because of his unique innovations, Sidebench has a growing reputation for solving its clients’ largest unique challenges through custom integrations, internal tools and consumer-facing applications. Forbes listed Kevin in its 30 Under 30 Class of 2017.

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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