A positive patient experience relies on every touchpoint, every time

In today’s value-based, consumer-driven world, patients think of themselves as customers, and they expect to be treated as such.

Yet, research shows 96 percent of patient complaints actually are related to their overall experience rather than medical care, which means there’s ample room for improvement.

Improving upon these areas, however, takes more than just better bedside manner. It requires everyone in the healthcare organization—from the C-Suite all the way down to patient billing—to shift mentality and change how they interact with the patient.

Dissatisfied patients will shop around for providers with higher satisfaction scores and take their business elsewhere just as they would if they had received poor service at a restaurant or retail store. Thus, healthcare organizations that want to survive in this new consumer-driven era must acknowledge that patient experience and satisfaction are key measures for success. Then, they should take strategic steps to improve interactions with their patients at every touchpoint.

Assess Your Organization

In a recent study conducted by ORC International, 72 percent of polled consumers reported that their health plan and provider experiences have not improved—or have gotten worse—in the last two years.

The most commonly reported complaints are related to communication, long wait times, staff and billing—little to do with their actual medical care. Nonetheless, when interactions like these fall short of patients’ expectations, they often overshadow the entire experience.

Ultimately, if patients are dissatisfied with their experience, they’ll go elsewhere which means lost revenue and less sustainability—metrics everyone within the organization should care about.

Organizations should start by monitoring several key indicators to determine whether they’re customer-focused or need to change their approach:

Patient Satisfaction Scores. When patients actually tell an organization through satisfaction scores they’re unhappy with their experience, it should be a big red flag that there needs to be an organizational shift to focus more on the implications of patient experience.
Staff Turnover Rates. If turnover rates are high, particularly for patient access or other customer service staff, this could mean patient-facing staff are inconsistent, possibly inadequate and may lack the expertise to sufficiently help the patient.
Denial Rates. If denial rates are high, it could be a workflow, process and/or staffing issue. Moreover, denials are extremely frustrating for patients, often costing them time and/or money to troubleshoot.
Long Wait Times for Customer Service: When patients call customer service or a call center, they’re likely calling because they have a question, are providing information or want to pay or contest a bill. If their call isn’t answered within 60 seconds, their satisfaction level begins to plummet, and they may even hang up.

Enhance Your Approach

Strategically, healthcare organizations can make patient experience a high priority at every level and in every function through tangible performance metrics, consistent messaging from the top and a service-oriented culture. Tactically, it may take outside help to achieve those goals.

First, providers should examine the technology and tools they’re using internally. Do they help streamline workflow? Do they automate routine procedures so staff have more time to spend working directly with patients and their families to create a more patient-centric experience? Do they integrate medical and financial data to support more efficient and accurate revenue cycle management (RCM)? If the answer is no to any of these questions, then the healthcare organization should consider solutions that can assist in these areas.

Next, the organization should consider how accessible its providers, patient access, customer service and billing staffs are to patients. Are patients able to communicate with the organization, stay engaged, ask questions, or pay bills in multiple ways, such as through an upgraded website, phone, email, patient portal or mobile app and at times that are most convenient for them? Are their needs met in a timely fashion?

If staffing issues are causing setbacks in any of these areas, organizations might consider outsourcing some of their services such as billing, call centers or other patient-facing functions. Doing so will ensure patients have access to patient-centric customer service representatives with healthcare experience, highly trained staff and the latest technology to help manage, track and measure service so patients don’t have to wait long for successful resolutions.

Improve Satisfaction

In the ORC International study, 70 percent of consumers report using, receiving and/or valuing consumer-centric services offered by healthcare providers. Hospitals and healthcare organizations should consider how employing these services and strategies can help change and enhance their approach to patient interactions.

In this new era of high deductible health plans and consumerism, healthcare organizations must evolve to begin seeing and treating patients as if they’re customers. From the top down, being more accessible to patients, meeting their needs in a timely fashion and improving communication at every touchpoint will help improve satisfaction levels and, ultimately, their overall experience.

Keith Slater is vice president of patient access services for Change Healthcare.

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