The breadth of factors affecting patient experience may be as large as any issue in healthcare administration today. While medical practices look to patient experience, customer-centricity is seen as a top strategic priority in a recent multi-industry survey of senior business leaders in the United States and United Kingdom.
The proliferation of high-deductible health plans which require patients to pay thousands of dollars toward their healthcare signals a national shift where healthcare consumers actively search for providers who provide quality, lower-cost care and where patients feel they are receiving value for their payments.
Management consulting organizations such as Kaufman Hill have surveyed hospitals and health systems regarding the state of consumerism in healthcare and found that patients rank their consumer experience than quality of clinical outcomes and value than providers, who routinely prioritize clinical quality, availability of complex care, geographic coverage and other factors before patient experience.
My recent discussion with Susan Childs, FACMPE, principal of Evolution Healthcare Consulting, Rougemont, N.C., speaks to the variety of factors that directly impact patient experience that a practice senior manager or executive may easily ignore.
“Every single thing from when you schedule the appointment all the way through getting the claim paid” has an impact on patient experience, Childs says. The curb appeal of a practice — even if the organization is leasing space in a larger building — contributes significantly to the first impressions a patient has before walking in the front door.
Many senior managers and practice executives will never walk through the front door of their practices and have the same experience as their patients. “You don’t see the worn-out paint” or other seemingly minor defects, Childs notes, that can leave a lasting impression – “and first impressions are made in 12 seconds,” she added.Forms to improve function
A practice leader may have these insights available if the organization has an active patient experience survey program. Patient surveys are a useful tool to identify issues and to in gather comments about the patient experience that might not otherwise be brought to the attention of staff, but Childs notes that frequency matters.
“The best thing I like to do is run continual patient satisfaction scores,” Childs says. “When you have somebody new at the front desk, you’re going to see exactly how they come across,” allowing practice leaders to address developing patterns more quickly.
Additionally, free text or open-field responses are essential to collecting more information on the subtler elements of the patient experience, Childs says.
Making a practice welcoming to patients necessitates that leaders do much more than assess patient attitudes with patient surveys. Practice leaders should consider their patient population when it comes to registration and patient information forms — practices with older patients should consider text size, word choice and accessibility, whether forms are printed or are available in digital versions on a kiosk or patient portal.
“When you’re at the high end of the administration, you’re going to use terms that no one else uses,” Childs says. “If you want to send a letter to all of your patients … you want to use language that they can relate to, not the medical terms. You want them to feel at home, you want to take the fear away, you want them to feel welcome.”
Connecting with providers and staff
The challenge of effective communication for a healthcare executive includes making a connection with your providers and staff to establish the importance of the issue of patient experience.
“As a CEO, CFO, operations manager, and anyone in that high level, you want to be personal with your staff,” Childs says, noting that static meetings and continual feedback from front-line staff – even if delivered by department heads – sends a message that you are open to receiving information about patient engagement and overall experience.
As a senior leader, you need to adopt a mindset of not waiting for information to consider in a reactive fashion. Childs notes that she often has adopted a “secret shopper” approach in evaluating a practice by simply sitting in a reception area for 30 minutes. “It’s enlightening because you are truly invisible,” Childs says, noting that front-office staff and patients alike may say something that yields insight into the overall patient experience. “You catch good things as well as bad, and then you can use that for training customer service that’s truly personalized, because every single practice is different,” she says.
A senior practice leader or executive bringing fresh eyes to evaluating his or her own organization is the key to getting a handle on patient experience, Childs says. “The best and easiest way for anyone, no matter what level you’re on, is to look at patient experience and think about yourself as a patient, your child as a patient or your mother as a patient,” she says. “Would you take them to this practice? You want to have the highest standard.”