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Mastering The Patient Experience

Patient experience and patient satisfaction may go hand-in-hand, but healthcare providers shouldn’t assume they’re synonymous. Clinicians often prioritize patient experience because it has the power to drive measurable quality improvements at medical centers and healthcare organizations. But as the healthcare industry becomes more consumer-centric, clinicians are more motivated than ever to level up their care delivery for a patient experience that inspires patient satisfaction — leaving each patient feeling heard, understood, and empowered.

Maintaining or growing your market share in the competitive healthcare industry depends on how you elevate the patient experience (how a patient perceives the quality of their care) and how you improve patient satisfaction (how well a healthcare organization provides care compared to the patient’s expectation).

As you and your care team review this guide to achieve a better patient experience, be aware of how your focused efforts to inspire patient satisfaction ultimately promote clinician satisfaction.

Defining “patient experience”

The Beryl Institute defines patient experience as “the sum of all interactions and communications that a patient has with the health system.” That broad definition can be broken down into these 4 drivers of patient engagement which will help your care team deliver patient-centered care:

Interactions

After 2 and a half years of robust research, interdisciplinary experts at Stanford Medicine are recommending that healthcare providers use these evidence-based interactions to achieve a positive patient experience:

  • Prepare: Get to know the patient you’re about to meet by reviewing medical records and even messages they’ve left for your practice. Develop a methodology that will help you block out everything else and focus all your attention on the patient who is about to enter your exam room.
  • Listen: Sit at eye level and lean toward your patient so you can listen intently to your most valuable information source without interrupting.
  • Connect: Empathize with your patient’s story — understand their circumstances, acknowledge their research and treatment efforts, and celebrate their successes … even if they occurred before you knew the patient.
  • Read cues: Tune in to your patient’s body language and emotional cues — notice, validate and address them to become a trusted partner.
  • Align priorities: Discover what matters most to your patient and integrate those values into every care plan and interaction going forward.

Culture

Cultural dimensions of healthcare organizations are an important factor in defining the patient experience and improving outcomes. Although the relationship between culture, patient safety, and quality measures is not straightforward, patient-centered care and a positive patient experience have been shown to affect a healthcare system’s performance metrics.

A qualitative study published in the BMJ Journal describes clear differences between cultures at high- and low-performing healthcare facilities. The continuum of care methodology that delivered the best performance and health outcomes owes its success to a superior leadership and management style, clinicians’ accountability and information systems, healthcare system HR policies, and relations with other community healthcare organizations.

Perceptions

Although a good deal of data has been collected on both the patient experience and patient satisfaction, there has been relatively little research into how patients define and perceive the quality of their healthcare. This is rapidly changing, however, thanks to more recent measures such as the Picker and CAHPS® surveys which have been developed to understand patients’ needs, concerns, and values.

Research documented in the Quality Measurement in Healthcare journal found that patient engagement initiatives are essential in healthcare quality management, as patients — who are defining healing, recovering, and wellness — may be the most reliable reporters of critical healthcare quality measures.

This study showed evidence that supports the association between perceived care coordination and self-reported medical, medication, and lab errors. As healthcare organizations continue to strive for a quality improvement methodology that improves care experiences and clinical outcomes, this study’s results emphasize the importance of integrated, patient-centered care.

Continuum of care

The National Library of Medicine defines continuum of care as “a concept involving an integrated system of care that guides and tracks patients over time through a comprehensive array of health services spanning all levels of care delivery intensity.” Since a continuum of care is a comprehensive range of health services, that care can evolve with the patient. Because a patient’s health may be most vulnerable during care gaps, the continuum of care ensures those gaps are filled.

From nursing care at home, to rehabilitation after surgery or illness, to long-term home health service for patients with a chronic illness or disability, an uninterrupted continuum of care leads to a better patient experience — which is likely to inspire high patient satisfaction.

Let’s say you get feedback from a patient. They tell you that you’ve effectively presented discharge and follow-up care instructions. You now have some actionable insights that can help you understand whether your efforts to improve the patient experience actually improved patient care … but you won’t know whether the patient was at ease and satisfied with that efficient procedure.

Understanding why patient experience matters

According to Healthcare IT News, a positive patient experience is a new priority for health systems that recognize the value of customer satisfaction, which can help your care team:

Boost your bottom line

Patients are increasingly seeking healthcare services that provide an impactful patient experience, which is why leading hospitals are growing profitability not by cutting costs, but by improving the patient experience and patient satisfaction. According to Accenture, “U.S. hospitals that deliver superior customer experience achieve net margins that are 50 percent higher, on average, than those of hospitals providing ‘average’ customer experience.”

Healthcare organizations are collecting increasing amounts of data that allows performance quality measures to be benchmarked with comparable organizations. An article in Harvard Business Review points to data from Press Ganey showing that when hospitals achieve a better patient experience, they report better safety records, technical quality, length of stay, and readmission rates. The study also found that a 5-point increase in hospital rating is associated with a 1% increase in profit margin. Improved employee engagement was also correlated with better health outcomes in all these parameters.

Improve your reputation

Consumers are developing a more sophisticated awareness of quality across all industries, and healthcare industry patients are no exception. The National Research Corporation discovered a link between patient experience and healthcare system reputation (especially for those with below-average quality measures of patient experience). They find that this relationship is strongest when reputation is measured 6 months later. Hospitals scoring highly on “Most Personalized Care” also tend to score highly on “Recommend Hospital” among discharged patients. Healthcare facilities’ reputation metrics around accommodations, safety, nurses, and quality were also indicators of higher reputation scores.

Inspire patient engagement

Interactions with healthcare providers directly shape patient engagement and care plan compliance — and ultimately, health outcomes. A patient who feels isolated, insulted, dismissed, or unheard will be less likely to engage with a care plan. When patients get access to resources and feel supported throughout the continuum of care, they’re more likely to trust healthcare providers with their well-being.

It is critical to train and educate patients on the use of healthtech implemented for patient engagement — patients are less likely to use technology they aren’t comfortable with and therefore may be less engaged.

Improve health outcomes

According to Health Affairs, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that patients who are more actively involved in their health care experience better health outcomes and incur lower costs. That’s why healthcare organizations are developing patient engagement and streamlining patient activation (the development of the knowledge, skills, ability, and willingness to manage one’s own health and care and participate in decision-making).

Research shows that engaged patients take ownership of their health and collaborate with healthcare providers to achieve the best possible health outcomes in a community of care. Inspiring patient engagement requires integrating patients’ values, beliefs, and behaviors to encourage a better patient experience. Healthtrust reports that “people who lack the skills, ability, and willingness to engage in their own health may incur up to 21% higher healthcare costs than other people.”

Measuring patient experience

Leverage CAHPS and HCAHPS programs

The Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) is a program conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) that helps healthcare organizations assess patient experience — and then use those results to aid in improving their quality of care. CAHPS surveys are available for both ambulatory and institutional settings and cover a variety of topics — including communication with healthcare professionals, access to care and information, customer service, and coordination of care.

CAHPS has incentivized the improvement of the patient experience at healthcare facilities. The results of these surveys are published and available for any patient or medical provider to see and apply to make more informed decisions. This encourages healthcare organizations to take a hard look at their care model and see how they compare to competitors.

With this valuable information, organizations are able to make progressive steps toward improving patient experience at their facility. Hospital CAHPS (HCAHPS) is a national, standardized, publicly reported survey conducted by the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS). Since the program’s first published reports in 2008, HCAHPS scores have helped capture the patient experience at over 4,000 hospitals annually.

Gain insight into the patient experience

To determine which factors most affect patient satisfaction, health systems must understand the entire patient journey — from pre-admission scheduling to lab testing and follow-up care. They also need insights on the roles that price, services, clinician referrals, and branding play in patients’ health care decisions. Focus groups and surveys can help healthcare organizations determine which factors most influence the patient experience.

McKinsey & Company reports that many health systems make large investments to improve the patient experience but fail to achieve their desired objectives because they don’t understand what matters most to their patients.

“… [Care providers] should undertake additional measures that complement their HCAHPS efforts so they can improve their performance in areas that could lead to increased loyalty, referrals, and profitable patient volume.”

Mastering patient experience

After much research and practice with your care team, you’ll be ready to measure the results of your efforts and learn how your clinicians can improve the patient experience in your healthcare system. Follow these 5 steps to master patient experience and inspire patient satisfaction:

1. Gather and execute on data insights

Monitor patients in real-time for immediate feedback

Remote patient monitoring devices have enabled healthcare systems to provide virtual care that makes for relaxed, engaged patients (and a better patient experience) while real-time health data is transferred to healthcare providers. The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically sped up the adoption of remote patient monitoring technologies in healthcare organizations of every size. RPM can relieve some of the logistics-based disruptions that come with patient data collection, making your processes more efficient and your outcomes more attainable.

Invest in a platform that allows EHR/EMR integration

Clunky electronic health record workflows with cumbersome pagination issues and excessive UI interactions can lead to lost patient data and unwanted outcomes. The inability to share patient information between clinics is driving some clinicians right out of healthcare.

Computerland reports that between 50% and 70% of clinicians are experiencing burnout symptoms due to EMR-related workloads. It can take as long as 45 minutes for a clinician to schedule a CT scan for a patient via an EHR records system or over the telephone … then more time convincing an insurance company to cover the procedure.

Clinicians are sitting in front of screens all the time — that’s because EHRs were created for billing, not patient healthcare delivery. Investing in a Care Management platform can relieve much stress and confusion.

Leverage surveys and focus groups

Data from quantitative surveys and qualitative focus can give you a more robust picture of the patient experience. Offer patients incentives for participation and be wary of factors that may influence responses, such as anonymity and the presence of authoritative iconography like scrubs or business suits.

Make sure to screen for courtesy bias, in which the presence of authority figures or unfamiliar environments (like a hospital) may cause patients to give more generous praise than they truly feel. The National Institutes of Health found that patients are more likely to share bad experiences in outreach settings than in home-based interviews on objectively asked questions about quality measures of care.

2. Streamline patient communication

When you find an effective Care Management platform that can integrate EHR/EMR data with patient notifications and portals, you’ll be able to nurture your patients throughout their care journey. Communication about lab results, new research findings, and simple friendly check-ins about care plan adherence can go a long way in building a strong patient-provider relationship and improving the patient experience enough to build trust in your care team. Whether your patient prefers calls, texts, emails, or video chats, a robust platform will enable you to meet their needs.

3. Evaluate whole care teams

It’s not always a single care provider, but your entire care teams’ effectiveness that ultimately shapes the patient experience. Apply your healthcare organization’s objectives to build quality measures and KPIs to determine how your care teams’ care delivery reflects your healthcare organization’s goals and mission. Surveys and focus groups should gather data around the team experience and care delivery cohesiveness. Efficient and effective care team collaboration improves both provider and patient satisfaction.

4. Inspire employee engagement

Engaged, satisfied employees enjoy their jobs and therefore perform better on quality measures across healthcare systems. According to research from the Partnership for Public Service, improving employee engagement can boost patient satisfaction and other elements of the patient experience. Researchers cite a Gallup survey that found that organizations scoring in the top quartile for employee engagement had 41% less absenteeism than businesses scoring in the bottom quartile. Turnover was 24% lower, customer loyalty was 10% higher, and businesses with the most employee engagement were 20% more productive.

The Harvard Business Review found that “hospitals that saw a performance gain of greater than 1% or more in both communication with nurses and employee engagement had an average performance gain of 6 points in overall hospital rating.”

5. Leverage innovative technology

To achieve optimal patient experience as well as provider and patient satisfaction, you’ll need to leverage next-generation Care Management technology. A patient-engagement-promoting platform integrates patient data, facilitates communication, and increases access to patient resources — all with the highest levels of data security available. It can have a dramatic impact on the patient experience.

Is your team ready to master the patient experience?

Achieving optimal patient experience and patient satisfaction requires leveraging today’s most innovative healthcare technology — it’s changing the way clinicians provide and enjoy healthcare. Digital health tools will help you automate surveys that measure patient experience and analyze data to improve efficiency.

Learn more about implementing Care Management technology at your healthcare organization and optimizing patient experience as well as clinician satisfaction — download this ebook and start creating amazing patient experiences.