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    Stacy (Yonker) Atwell
    Stacy (Yonker) Atwell, MBA, CMPE, LSSBB, CRCMP, CRMS

    Every medical practice leader receives a poor patient review at some point in their careers. Daily leadership activities come with the goal of delivering optimal care and treatment from our providers and employees. In return, physicians and practice executives alike hope to receive positive feedback and reviews from patients regarding their experiences. Patient experience is directly tied to the interactions they have with clinicians and staff and how the patient perceives those encounters.

    With increasingly tech-savvy generations and the ease of social media use, poor patient reviews can be detrimental to a practice’s reputation and pose financial implications that affect patient outcomes. So how do healthcare leaders mitigate poor patient experiences to ensure positive encounters and quality outcomes?

    Communication

    Inadequate communication is a leading factor in decreased patient care, their health outcomes and their care experience. By enhancing the way your staff and providers communicate with patients, you can create more positive experiences for patients and, consequently, a better working environment for your staff. There are many ways this can be accomplished regardless of practice size, specialty or location.

    Patient education: Set expectations

    Having worked as a patient care coordinator for nearly a decade before transitioning to leading practice operations and shaping patient experience, I have gained extensive insight into patient perceptions. The most common patient frustrations and perceptions surround confusion about their care plans, not knowing “what to expect,” feeling a lack of support or that they are just another number in the medical system. Having a process in place to mitigate these frustrations will increase patient satisfaction, experience and quality of their care, and it can also boost financial and operational outcomes for your organization. Consider the following tactics to achieve those results:

    • Welcome packets outline practice policies and expectations, provider/staff communication workflows and preparation for appointments and treatment plans. These can be in physical or electronic form, depending on the needs and wants of your practice. Studies have shown that welcome materials provided to patients improve patient readiness and person-centered care and increase perceived overall value, quality and patient experience.1 Patients who are educated on what to expect, their treatment plan and how it impacts their care are less likely to be frustrated, minimizing the chances of poor outcomes for the patient and the organization (e.g., a bad review, frequent calls increasing staff administrative burden, patient attrition).
    • Appointment reminder calls help enable a quality appointment and positive patient experience. Whether it is the “old school” phone call or a new, automated platform that calls your patients for you, this is an essential function of your front of house operations. There is a sweet spot to integrating automation into your business, and pre-registration is an area where it just makes sense. Numerous available platforms enable you to customize automated solutions for insurance eligibility, patient registration and appointment reminders, streamlining processes before a patient even visits your office.

    Around two months ago, I introduced welcome packets to my organization to improve the patient experience. Following negative reviews and feedback from patients confused and frustrated by unclear treatment plan timelines, it was essential to remedy this issue. Since adopting this process for all new patients and introducing new treatment plans, the practice has experienced increased patient satisfaction, improved quality of care and outcomes, fewer calls to the practice and more positive reviews.

    Employee engagement: Competency

    Ensuring your employees are well trained and understand organizational policies and procedures positively impacts patient satisfaction. Train your staff utilizing service education — practice specific and results-driven training methods to give your employees the tools and knowledge needed to augment the patient experience and sustain the longevity of your practice’s future.2 Employees who understand their role in the organization and have the tools necessary to complete their tasks are engaged employees. Engaged employees enhance the patient experience and outcomes in healthcare settings.

    Gone are the days when patients had modest expectations of their provider’s office, merely anticipating a quick visit, a prescription and off they go. In today’s healthcare environment, patients expect concierge-level service (high-value, high-quality, exceptional outcomes). This demand for high-level service requires healthcare professionals and employees to provide unrivaled customer service and knowledgably handle patient expectations. Ways to improve employee competency to increase patient experience and quality outcomes include:

    • Effective training programs — Imagine playing a game of “Telephone,” where a message is whispered from person to person until it reaches the last player. Usually, the final message is indistinguishable from passing through multiple channels. This game is not just child’s play; it’s an apt analogy for what happens in medical practices that lack formal training protocols. In this scenario, employees may be inadequately trained, causing issues that ripple through your operations, affecting staff, patients and creating workflow issues. Technical skills and knowledge of staff are essential to patient experience.
    • Soft skill coaching – Caring and empathetic communication with patients leads to higher patient satisfaction and perceived care quality. Employees should greet the patients, acknowledge them by name and introduce themselves and their role in the patient’s care. Small compliments, acknowledging the patient’s concerns and active listening are some of the soft skills that can enhance patient care.

    Efficiency

    Patients’ perceptions of the quality of care they receive can be influenced by observing a practice’s efficiency. This can happen during various points in the patient’s journey, from start (new patient) to finish (receiving treatment for their condition[s]). It is important for healthcare leaders to review the efficiency of their practice operations to increase positive patient experience. Ask yourself these questions from a patient’s perspective:

    • How long did it take for me to get in to see the doctor?
    • Did staff communicate with me if my doctor was experiencing delays?
    • Do I know my treatment plan and understand what the next steps are?
    • How hard is it to reach my doctor’s office when I have questions?
    • Did my doctor, nurse and office staff address any concerns I had while I was in office?
    • Do I understand what my treatment or procedure will cost with my insurance?

    Your answers could reveal opportunities for improvement or highlight your strengths.

    Efficiency to a patient means easy to access, easy to use and easy to understand. Leadership requires constant review of external factors affecting how your customers and patients experience your practice, facility, hospital or healthcare center. Every quarter, my practice reviews various metrics surrounding patient encounters to ensure service levels are accommodating patient needs. I use patient surveys and feedback to assess a patient’s overall experience as they touch most areas where patients tend to experience pain points. Additionally, we use dashboard tracking to monitor key patient experience indicators like time from referral to the patient’s first appointment and the turnaround time for receiving treatment. Should you identify multiple areas in your organization that need improvements, please do not stress. Improving patient experience is the long game; tackle one area at a time before moving to the next.

    Teamwork

    Not all patients excel at their own advocacy and sometimes are poor historians. This causes significant delays and deficiencies in their care, which can result in a negative review of your facility. To minimize this potential outcome, communication needs to be your overarching theme. How, with whom and when we communicate is integral to patient advocacy and ultimately the patient experience.

    • Interprofessional collaboration in healthcare has been shown to deliver optimal patient care outcomes and increase patient experience amongst their providers’ organizations.3 Communicate with patients’ other providers regularly. Use automation to send office visit/procedure/surgical notes and summaries to the patients’ providers outside your organization. (Always ensure you have the appropriate HIPAA release on file to allow you to do so.)
    • Internal collaboration between your practice staff and the patient will increase patient satisfaction and generate practice loyalty. Patients who perceive that their doctor and support staff care about them increases patient engagement in their care and the quality of care received. Educated and engaged patients participate more in their care, which can reduce the administrative burden on staff when trying to achieve continuity of care.

    Compassion

    Patients often relate their experiences and value of care to how they are treated by their healthcare team. They may ask:

    • “Do my doctor and their staff support and care about me as a person?”
    • “Am I greeted with a smile and acknowledged when I arrive for my appointments?”

    Compassionate care for your patients is about the outcomes as well as how those outcomes are achieved. Ensuring an appropriate amount of time is scheduled with the provider can help improve the patient’s experience, as well as reduce any operational bottlenecks and patient dissatisfaction. If your providers are on a 10-minute schedule rotation, they are likely to fall behind schedule. This not only delays patient appointments, but it also results in poorer patient outcomes and creates operational inefficiencies for your front desk staff. Consider increasing your time slots to adjust and allow more time for your providers to engage with their patients.

    Many factors influence patient experience and outcome quality. There is no one way to increase patient experience, but a blend of external and internal elements can be integrated and molded to fit your organization’s needs. Understanding and meeting patient needs boils down to effective communication. A strong, well-trained and engaged team is essential for improved patient care. Discuss and understand patient expectations while they are at your practice. Ensure all organizational functions operate efficiently, and, most importantly, make every patient feel valued and unique, not just a number on the conveyor belt of medical care.  Your patient reviews will thank you.

    Notes:

    1. Busl KM, Alongi J, Anderson A, Jaffee M, Baron-Lee J. “Patient-perceived value of a specialty-specific welcome letter.” Neurology Clinical Practice. 2019 Jun;9(3):228–32. doi:10.1212/cpj.0000000000000633.
    2. Kennedy DM. “Creating an excellent patient experience through service education.” Journal of Patient Experience. 2017 Jul 17;4(4):156–61. doi:10.1177/2374373517718351.
    3. O’Connor W. “5 Benefits of Interprofessional Collaboration in Healthcare.” tigerconnect. 2023. Available from: https://bit.ly/3T9WXGc.
    Stacy (Yonker) Atwell

    Written By

    Stacy (Yonker) Atwell, MBA, CMPE, LSSBB, CRCMP, CRMS

    Stacy is the Chief Executive Officer of Sarasota Arthritis Center and has worked in the rheumatology field since 2015. Currently, she oversees overall operations of the multi-location, 13-provider practice. Stacy obtained her bachelor’s in technology management at the State College of Florida and her MBA from Purdue University. She is a Certified Medical Practice Executive and actively pursuing ACMPE Fellowship. Stacy holds certifications in risk and compliance management (CRCMP and CPCO), rheumatology management through NORM (CRMS), medical practice management (CMPM) and has her CMAA through the NHA. She achieved her Lean Six Sigma Black Belt in January of this year.


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