What Is the Patient Experience?

The concept of "patient experience" seems straightforward however, there are widely varying views among people in the healthcare industry as to what the "patient experience" really means. Nearly three-quarters of respondents (74%) to the  2013 HealthLeaders Media Patient Experience Leadership Survey expect to focus on patient experience training and education over the next three years. The patient experience is clearly a priority but what is it?

Patients expect a lot, but the most important things they expect are to be able to trust providers to deliver great care, confidence that providers treat patients fairly across the board, and that members of the health care team are open to resolving unexpected problems.

But given that there's little consensus on what "patient experience" means, healthcare facilities struggle with the best way to improve it. This must change because if you can't define patient experience you can't deliver it, and if you can't deliver it, you can't measure your success in doing so.

The 2013 HealthLeaders Media Patient Experience Leadership Survey covers more than 200 healthcare CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CNOs, directors, senior vice presidents, and other high-ranking healthcare officials with the end goal being to shed some light on the patient experience conundrum.

The survey shows that when it comes to defining the patient experience, there are widely divergent views within the healthcare industry: 34.5% agreed that the patient experience equals "patient-centered care," 29% agreed it was "an orchestrated set of activities that is meaningfully customized for each patient," and 23% said it involved "providing excellent customer service." The rest agreed that the patient experience meant "creating a healing environment," was "consistent with what's measured by HCAHPS," or was something "other" than the options provided in the survey.

“Patient experience is not just something that we are doing so that the patients say they like us. We are not doing patient experience work to drive an HCAHPS score and we certainly don’t measure the success of our patient experience program on the basis of an HCAHPS score. We know the HCAHPS scores will improve because we are doing the right work.”

 William Maples, MD, senior vice president and chief quality officer at Mission Health System


Recent Studies Concerning Patient Experience

A recent study by Press Ganey spelled out three primary ways providers can deliver excellent patient experience levels: 

• Understanding the relationship between employee satisfaction and patient experience
• Focusing on sustained organizational improvement
• Developing an actionable strategy rather than simply saying the right buzzwords at opportune times

Hospitals are reimbursed partly depending on how engaged and educated their patient base is, so more of them are making patient engagement a priority.

A recent study reported that 42% of consumers say personal experience is their top influencer for making healthcare decisions. In other industries, price was the top influencer. Moreover, healthcare staff attitude is a defining factor in 60% of healthcare experiences, whereas it's only a factor in 30% of experiences in other industries.

How Patient Experience Affects Revenues

More patients today have high-deductible healthcare plans, which means patients are shouldering a greater percentage of healthcare costs than they used to. And since they know they're going to be handing over a significant amount of money, they consider a positive patient experience a top priority.

It's only going to become more important in the future, as more patients pay a higher percentage of costs out of pocket. They need to leave a facility feeling good enough about the experience that the next time a family member needs medical care they'll return there.

One unhappy patient can put a significant amount of future revenue at risk.

Challenges to Improving the Patient Experience

Healthcare providers don't always agree on what constitutes a positive patient experience, nor do they agree on how to create them.

Clinician interaction is and always will be a high priority, but it's easy to forget that everyone from the registration team to the discharge team can profoundly affect patient experience. In fact, a patient's entire opinion of a healthcare experience can hinge on just one poor interaction with a team member, whether the team member is a doctor, nurse, billing clerk, or receptionist.

In other words, providers have to look well beyond clinician-patient interactions when they strive to improve patient experience. Take a look at the multiple ways your patients communicate with your practice. This includes your website, phone calls, even patient statements and ask yourself how you can keep communication transparent and positive from beginning to end. 

There really is no end to the patient experience because your patients are going to continuously rely on you to keep them engaged in their healthcare. When they leave your office they might be following you or your practice on facebook or visiting your website to read your blog. The patient experience is more than a visit to your office. It is how they found the directions to your office, the friendliness of staff, the comfort of the waiting room, the delivery of care, the ease of paying their bill after their visit and so much more.

What's your practice doing today to make the experience better for patients? 

Why Patient Experience Will Have an Even Bigger Impact Down the Road

More people may have insurance coverage now, but that doesn't mean healthcare billing is simple and straightforward.

On the contrary, medical billing continues increasing in complexity, and it has a tremendous impact on patient satisfaction, primarily because it's the last phase of the patient-provider interaction. Sometimes that impact isn't positive.

Many patients today not only expect their bills to be inaccurate, they feel this makes it OK to feel less responsible about paying them. A surprising proportion of patients simply won't pay a medical bill they don't understand. Medical coding, billing, payment technology, and patient statements are all a big part of the patient experience and your revenue cycle.

Practical Steps for Improving the Patient Experience

Maybe your facility doesn't have the resources to make your lobby look that of an upscale hotel, but there are other, less expensive ways to improve the patient experience and at the same time increase patient engagement. And engaged patients tend to have better health outcomes.

Facilities may develop outreach programs like cooking classes for diabetics, or they may ensure their electronic health record (EHR) solution offers outstanding features like online appointment booking, online payments, a check-in kiosk, and automated appointment reminders.

Excellent medical care is necessary, but not sufficient for excellent patient satisfaction.

Healthcare delivery is a more personal and emotional transaction than just about any other type of business transaction. Now and in the future, patient experience and engagement will not only influence medical revenues, but medical outcomes, which means patient experience must be a leading priority for all members of the healthcare delivery team.

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