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It can sometimes seem strange to think of healthcare as a competitive marketplace. After all, whether it’s a routine check-up, specialized treatment, or an inpatient procedure, healthcare in all its forms is an essential service, one that’s vital to patients leading their happiest, healthiest lives. Yet as competitive as it is, especially now that — thanks to growing access to remote healthcare services — patients have more options than ever before.
Although increased competition places added pressure on providers, it’s good news for patients because it has motivated healthcare organizations to reimagine the patient experience in a way that contains costs, optimizes in-person and digital service, enhances the overall quality of care, and drives better clinical outcomes.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the benefits of improving the patient experience — and how technology is leading the way.
What Is the Patient Experience?
When we talk about “the patient experience,” what we’re referring to is the collective experiences a patient has with a healthcare provider. Whether it’s an initial phone call to inquire whether a doctor is accepting new patients, an automated email reminder about an upcoming prescription refill, or an in-person appointment, the patient experience encompasses a diverse array of interactions, all of which directly impact a patient’s health.
In order to improve patient satisfaction and increase retention, healthcare providers need to reevaluate each of these experiences on an individual basis and as a whole, actively looking for opportunities to optimize and enhance service. Ultimately, it’s imperative that healthcare providers make it as easy as possible for patients to secure the treatment they need and provide necessary support every step of the way.
Driving Better Clinical Outcomes Through Improved Patient Experiences
Positive interactions can have a lasting impact on patients — let’s look at just a few of the patient-centric benefits of improving the patient experience:
- Patients receive more empathetic care. There have been a growing number of conversations in the medical community around the importance of empathy and its impact on patient outcomes. The idea here is that by demonstrating empathy to their patients — that is, an ability to understand and appreciate how their patients are feeling — healthcare practitioners can strengthen therapeutic relationships, increase the rate of treatment adherence, and improve patient satisfaction.
Research supports this theory: According to a study published in Healthcare, an MDPI publication, “patients with cancer demonstrate less stress, depression, and aggressiveness when receiving empathetic nursing care.” Similarly, empathetic relationships between midwives and expectant mothers “increase the latter’s satisfaction and lessens the stress, the agony, and the pain of the forthcoming labor as the mother feels security, trust, and encouragement.”
A truly exceptional patient experience will prioritize education and understanding, accommodate the patient’s unique needs and abilities, and ensure that treatment is as accessible as it is comprehensive, all of which make it empathetic by default.
- Patients experience increased confidence in healthcare providers. When healthcare experiences are designed to reflect the realities of patients’ lives, and when patients feel they are heard and understood by practitioners, they are more likely to feel secure and trust in healthcare professionals’ abilities.
- Patients receive more accurate diagnoses and effective treatment plans. When patients are confident in their providers, they’re more likely to seek out treatment earlier and to be forthcoming about the different issues and symptoms they’re experiencing.
Armed with this information, healthcare professionals can provide more accurate diagnoses and deliver comprehensive care that’s more likely to address the root cause of patient conditions. And when patients notify providers of health conditions earlier on, those providers can deliver proactive and preventative treatment.
Finally, one of the most effective ways to improve the patient experience is for healthcare providers to make patients part of the decision-making process. For example, rather than just providing a standard list of next steps to take following an appointment, a physician might create a customized treatment plan that reflects the realities of the patient’s life and actively solicit the patient’s feedback on what can be done to help ensure adherence. This approach not only increases treatment efficacy and reduces the risk of overtreatment, but it also increases the likelihood of patient adherence — which leads us to our next item.
- Patients are more likely to adhere to treatment plans. According to research published in the Medical Care Research and Review journal:
“… better patient care experiences are associated with higher levels of adherence to recommended prevention and treatment processes, better clinical outcomes, better patient safety within the hospital, and less health care utilization.”
When patients trust their healthcare professionals, understand their treatment plans, and feel as though they have an active role to play in their care, their rate of adherence significantly improves. In the long term, this adherence leads to lower rates of hospital readmission, fewer health complications, lower mortality rates, and better overall quality of life.
- Patients experience lower wait times for diagnostic results. A positive patient experience should be as efficient as it is effective. By digitizing certain touchpoints within the patient journey, healthcare organizations can make it easier for providers to communicate with patients through their preferred channels and share important information — including diagnostic results — in real-time.
6 Reasons Why Healthcare Providers Should Care About the Patient Experience
Patients aren’t the only ones who benefit from a positive patient experience — here are just some of the ways healthcare organizations and professionals stand to gain:
- Providers develop a better understanding of patient conditions. As noted, patients who feel comfortable with and trust in their providers are more likely to maintain open lines of communication — especially if they have multiple channels through which to connect.
By engaging with patients more and having open and honest conversations, physicians can develop a deeper, more nuanced understanding of their patients’ conditions and needs. This comprehensive view not only enables providers to design more effective treatment plans, but also adds to their knowledge of different conditions, which can inform future study and treatment.
- Providers can increase the likelihood of treatment adherence. Physicians who take the time to ensure not only that their patients understand their conditions and prescribed treatment plans, but that their patients have access to necessary treatment resources, are able to increase adherence, which can lead to better clinical outcomes across the board.
- Providers can improve engagement with patients and their families. One of the most impactful ways to encourage treatment adherence is to engage with family members within a patient’s circle of care. Family members often find themselves playing the role of caregiver or support system, so keeping them in the loop — with the patient’s consent, of course — can help them develop a better understanding of their loved one’s condition, offer insight on what they can do to help, and empower them to make more informed.
- Providers feel more satisfied with their work. According to research from RAND Corporation on behalf of the American Medical Association:
“… when physicians [perceive] themselves as providing high-quality care or their practices as facilitating their delivery of such care, they [report] better professional satisfaction.”
Given that the concepts of a positive patient experience and high-quality care are so closely interlinked — you really can’t have one without the other — improving the patient experience also improves physician job satisfaction. Both providers and their practices benefit from this boost in satisfaction: physicians are that much less likely to feel disengaged from their work or to experience burnout, and healthcare organizations experience reduced rates of physician turnover.
- Providers experience a reduced risk of malpractice. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a strong correlation between patient satisfaction and medical liability claims. According to research published in the American Journal of Medicine, decreases in physicians’ patient satisfaction scores were associated with increased rates of unsolicited complaints from patients and risk management episodes. Compared to physicians with top satisfaction survey ratings, malpractice lawsuit rates for physicians in the middle tertile were 26% and 110% for physicians in the bottom tertile.
It’s easy to understand the correlation between the two — after all, patients are more likely to be dissatisfied with the care they’ve received if they feel as though their physician did not listen to or validate their concerns or if their treatment plan proved ineffective. Positive patient experiences require providers to be engaged and attentive and to deliver high-quality, comprehensive care which, by its very nature, reduces the risk of malpractice.
- Healthcare organizations see higher rates of revenue. Patients are similar to consumers in that if they’re dissatisfied with their experience with an organization, they’ll take their business — or, in this case, seek treatment — elsewhere. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reports that in 2020, U.S. healthcare spending reached $4.1 trillion or $12,530 per person.
Given these figures, it’s easy to see how much healthcare organizations stand to gain from improving patient satisfaction and earning patients’ long-term loyalty as a result. An optimized patient experience also has the power to improve a practice’s reputation, encourage positive word-of-mouth marketing, and strengthen its competitive standing within the healthcare marketplace.
Key Principles for Improving Patient Satisfaction
Improving the patient experience and, by extension, increasing patient satisfaction requires a concerted effort from healthcare organizations and providers. Here are some actions practices and physicians can take to move the needle forward — and how technology can help:
- Design experiences with patients’ actual needs and abilities in mind. Patients are not a monolith; each individual’s needs will vary based on their primary condition, comorbidities, age, socio-demographic variables, what barriers to compliance they face, and so on. As such, it’s important that healthcare organizations and providers make every effort to tailor their care to the individual, rather than take a uniform approach to treatment.
Collecting and analyzing patient data is a good place to start. Hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, and more can use a healthcare data management platform to store patient data in a centralized location and build out detailed profiles for each patient, including contact information, demographic data, medical history records, treatment plans, and preferred form(s) of contact. Such a system can provide a truly holistic view of each patient so that providers can make informed decisions about how best to meet each patient’s unique needs.
- Take a page out of retailers’ books. Many healthcare organizations are reluctant to equate “patients” with “consumers,” and for good reason: While a consumer describes someone who voluntarily seeks out and purchases a product or service, patients are motivated to seek out a service based on an essential need. After all, if a patient does not pursue treatment, it could have lasting impacts on their health.
Regardless of where you land on the “patient” vs. “consumer” debate, healthcare organizations and providers looking to improve the patient experience can learn something from the consumer experiences of major retailers. From mobile applications and online rewards programs to customer relationship management systems and artificially intelligent virtual agents, retail companies have excelled at leveraging technology to design one-of-a-kind customer experiences that keep consumers happy and coming back for more.
- Carefully consider the patients’ journeys. Much like their needs, no two patients’ journeys are exactly alike. To that end, it’s imperative that healthcare organizations implement omnichannel engagement strategies that include both in-person and online channels in order to create connected patient journeys that reflect the reality of the modern patient experience.
Known as the “digital front door,” this strategy emphasizes using the latest in telehealth technology to design more dynamic patient journeys. From scheduling appointments online and sending automated alerts about prescription refills to enabling patients to meet virtually with their providers and electronically sharing follow-up notes and post-discharge communications, the digital front door empowers patients to seek the treatment they need, on their own terms, and through the channel(s) of their choosing.
- Don’t undervalue user experience design. Although technology is essential to improving the patient experience, every telehealth solution requires a solid, patient-centered user experience (UX) design in order to be truly effective. A good UX design is the difference between a patient portal that’s easy to navigate and accessible versus one that’s overly complicated and cluttered. UX design that accounts for patients’ actual needs, preferences, and behaviors is the key to creating exceptional digital experiences and, as a result, positive patient experiences.
12 Ways Providers Can Use Technology to Transform the Patient Experience
With the right combination of patient-centered UX design and innovative technological solutions, healthcare organizations and providers can vastly improve patient satisfaction. Here are just a few of the ways to incorporate technology into the patient experience:
- Offering online appointment scheduling
- Sending appointment confirmations and reminders via email or text message
- Creating patient portals and mobile applications for easy access to records, test results, insurance information, and online bill payment
- Streamlining new patient onboarding and intake with digitized forms
- Providing patients with access to both traditional and digital communication channels
- Using video conferencing technology for remote appointments
- Anticipating patients’ needs using predictive analytics and AI
- Sending e-reminders and alerts to support patient compliance
- Entertaining patients at hospitals with bedside tablets
- Creating online educational content for treatment plans and medications
- Sharing content via social media, online blog, or email newsletter
- Sending follow-up surveys via text or email to gauge patient satisfaction
Start Achieving Better Outcomes Today
Today’s patients expect more from their healthcare providers — are you able to deliver? By leveraging the power of the Microsoft platform, Hitachi Solutions can help providers deliver personalized patient experiences that inspire confidence, promote accessibility, support high-quality care, and increase patient satisfaction.