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Patient experience defined

Health care is changing at a rapid pace and it’s becoming more competitive. Patients have become informed consumers of health care and are increasingly more engaged in their own health. The future of this sector depends on delivering quality care that ensures positive patient experience.

What is patient experience? The Harvard Business Review defines patient experience as ‘’the sum of all interactions influencing patient perceptions across the continuum of care.’’ In other words, it encompasses all interactions patients have with their medical insurers, physicians, health care providers, nurses, and front desk staff in hospitals, clinics, and private practices.

Patient care cannot be separated from health care quality – poor patient care is poor quality health care. As such, patient experience has to do with factors like not having to wait long for appointments, being treated as a human being and not a case, and respectful communication with everyone during their health care interactions.

Patient experience is not the same as patient satisfaction

It’s easy to treat these two terms interchangeably, and many people do, but that’s an error. Patient experience measures various aspects of the healthcare system and whether it can be considered as quality care. To measure patient experience, a questionnaire may ask whether it was easy to find the doctor’s rooms and whether the communication with the doctor was clear. It asks whether something happened.

Patient satisfaction, on the other hand, asks if the patient’s expectations were met. This is a more subjective measurement, since two people can experience the same care, but because they had different expectations, they will rate the care differently. Because of this, patient experience is used as a measure for quality care and not patient satisfaction.

In terms of the role that each participant plays in patient experience, patient experience can be defined as everything these participants say or do that affects a patient’s perceptions, feelings, and well-being.

Reasons for improving patient experience

Positive results for patients

In the current climate, patients have become consumers who are shopping around for the best health care services for their money. As a result, private practices, clinics, and hospitals must improve patient experience in order to attract patients. Positive interactions with patients will also retain them and spread the word about the quality of the care given at the facility. 

  1. Improving patient experience is the right thing to do. Patients are already in a stressed and emotional state when they have to consult a doctor or visit a hospital for a procedure. Providing them with a polite and comforting experience is good for patient relationships and results in satisfied customers that are likely to return to the facility.
  2. Good interaction with all in the chain of communication has positive implications for disease management. For instance, sustained support from and good communication with practitioners have led to diabetic patients improving the way they manage their condition, which is crucial for meaningful management of diabetes. 
  3. The same is true for patients who suffer from other chronic conditions. These conditions can only be handled effectively if the patient works closely with their health care providers. How patients experience their interactions with providers in terms of care and communication, directly affects whether a patient will follow the advice they receive. Positive patient experience leads to greater commitment to medical treatment.
  4. Research has shown that the quality of the communication between physicians and patients leads to improved health outcomes for patients. A study that looked at the long-term outcome for patients who were in the hospital following a heart attack, found that a year after being discharged, patients who had a positive experience in the hospital were more likely to be healthy and still alive.
  5. Introducing policies that ensure patients are treated as unique individuals has led to patients and their families or caregivers becoming more involved in their health care. In practice, this translates into fewer medication errors, shorter stays in hospital, fewer physical accidents, and a decrease in medicine usage.

Positive results for medical practices, clinics, and hospitals

  • Loyalty

Superior patient experience builds loyalty. Patients who are treated with respect and care build strong relationships with their doctors and healthcare facilities. When this happens, they are not likely to leave. Research has shown that patients who regard their relationship with their care provider or health care facility as poor are more likely to abandon the facility and look elsewhere for what they need in terms of health care. 

  • Increased revenues

A natural outcome of increased loyalty is increased revenue. Improving patient loyalty can significantly increase a medical facility’s revenue. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Americans spend more or less $10,000 annually on health care. While loyal patients mean dependable income, patients that leave mean huge sums of money lost. The profits from increasing retention rates by 5% can be anything between 25% and 95%, according to a Harvard article. 

  • Enhanced reputation

Today, an organization’s reputation is built online as much as it is in real-life, physical interaction with patients. The internet is a great source of patient reviews and official ratings of private practices, clinics, and hospitals. Patients, like all consumers, are greatly influenced by what others think of a health care facility and those who work there.

The fact is, a health care facility’s reputation can rise or fall depending on the quality of patient experience. Reputation depends on quality patient experience – if it’s present, patients will return and tell others about their experience; if it’s absent, patients will stay away and tell others about their experience.

According to a report from The Advisory Board Company, the average hospital can increase revenue by more than $22 million if it increases customer loyalty by 10 %.

  • Improved employee satisfaction

In order to provide the best patient experience, many facilities invest in improving their systems and processes. Although they do it for the benefit of patients, physicians and their staff also benefit. It makes their work easier and more effective and that leads to employee satisfaction.

Employees who have all the means at their disposal to deliver a good service tend to become more engaged in their work and deliver better service. They show greater interest in their work and actually want to deliver the best service they can. Because they can deliver stellar service, they derive more satisfaction from their work. Engaged and satisfied employees don’t leave their jobs. Greater employee retention drives profitability for hospitals, clinics, and private practices. 

  • Fewer malpractice suits

Patients who had a stellar experience during their stay at a hospital are not likely to call in the law. It’s the patients that report poor patient experience that are likely to do that. Good patient experience lowers the risk of medical malpractice suits. Research has found that patients who score their experience as ‘’very poor’’ are more likely to sue a clinician or a health care facility.

What do patients want most of all?

The Consumer Perspectives on Patient Experience 2021 report by The Beryl Institute analyzed responses from more than 2,000 respondents in the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Australia, and the United Kingdom to find out what qualities consumers want during their healthcare journey.

They found that patients want health care providers to acknowledge them as human beings and treat them as such. They want their interactions with health care providers to be more human.

The researchers report: ‘’Consumers above all else are asking one thing, to be listened to.” Second, they want ‘’being communicated to in a way one could understand” and thirdly, they want “being treated with dignity and respect.’’ 

What are patient pain points?

According to NRC Health’s 2019 Healthcare Consumer Trends Report, patients complained about wait times and how administrative and support staff treat them. They felt that they were not treated with respect. There were also issues with billing and insurance, which may not have been transparent enough.

Patients also indicated that their health care providers weren’t informed about and didn’t understand their health history. They did, however, also indicate that they were treated with respect by doctors and nurses, which they appreciated.

Ways to improve patient experience

  • Make use of patient experience surveys

Use surveys to find out how your patients experience your service. Hospitals use the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey to measure patient satisfaction. There is also a standard one for private practitioners: the CG-CAHPS (Clinician and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems). Health care providers can customize the standard HCAHPS so it includes questions particular to their situation.

The answers you get from patients can show what your patients’ perceptions are of your service and where your practice can improve. CAHPS does not measure patient satisfaction. It measures aspects of patient experience like whether a doctor listened carefully to them during their hospital stay.

Survey results are available online where anyone can read them, so they can have a positive or a negative effect on a provider’s reputation.

  • Let your website do the introduction  

These days the patient experience starts online. That is where most people go when they are looking for a new doctor or a specialist for a special health problem.

The way they experience your website, for them, is an indication of what their experience will be like once they arrive for an appointment. Make navigating your website easy and provide clear information on what services you offer and how to book. Provide all the relevant information a prospective patient might need. 

  • Communicate with your patients

Keep in contact with your patients by confirming appointments and sending reminders. You can also have content in the waiting room for them to read. These can be brochures about common health conditions, preventative measures, etc. 

When patients are booked for a procedure at the hospital, tell them what they can expect. This will help with the anxiety caused by uncertainty.

Once a patient is in hospital, it’s helpful for them to have information on their condition, the steps in their treatment, what medication they will receive, when the doctor will do his rounds, etc. Above all, pay attention to patients’ questions and answer them in a way that they can understand and feel at ease.

  • Make sure all staff are on board 

Make sure that all staff members understand that providing a great experience for patients with a friendly and caring attitude is a core value of the practice or hospital. Inform office and administrative staff that they, and how they treat patients, help to create an experience for patients that they either want to avoid in the future or look forward to. 

Treating patients with kindness and compassion, and never making patients feel dismissed is a surefire way to provide stellar patient care.

  • Focus on employee engagement

Make employee engagement a priority. Employees who are engaged are invested in and passionate about the work that they do. This is the kind of workforce you need to improve patient experience. Staff who feel passionate about what they do, enjoy their work. This is evident in their interactions with everyone they come in contact with, including patients and co-workers. Engaged employees create a happy atmosphere that enriches patient experience. 

Employee engagement is important. One way to increase employee engagement is to listen to employees. Ask their honest opinion and then do your best to respond to it. This will help your staff to feel respected and valued. People who feel respected and valued tend to treat others with respect as well.

  • Keep wait times to a minimum

We all hate to be kept waiting, and this is the one issue that keeps on coming up in patient surveys. When we are kept waiting, we feel that the doctor disregards the value of our time.

Patients indicate in surveys that wait time forms a big part of how they feel about their experience at a hospital or private practice. In fact, patients are known to change doctors when they are repeatedly kept waiting.

The first prize is to keep to the arranged schedule, the second prize is to let patients know if you are running late and how long they might have to wait. And don’t treat them as if they are breaking the law if they decide they have better things to do with their time than sitting in a waiting room.

Final thoughts

These are just a few suggestions for improving patient experience. However, what patients really want is to be treated as human beings and to be listened to. Any organization that has mastered patient experience will notice their business will flourish.