Top leaders share simple ways to cultivate patient loyalty.
Improving the patient experience is a goal that makes sense for every healthcare provider.
“The evidence continues to show that organizations that focus on patient experience drive outcomes: financial, loyalty, and clinical outcomes,” says Sam Hosokawa, vice president patient experience at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Consumer expectations, which are higher than ever before, are being shaped by innovations and experiences outside of healthcare, according to Hosokawa. As a result, committing to improving patient experience is no longer optional.
Given this reality, how can healthcare providers make patients happier? Here are 10 helpful perspectives on simple ways to pursue this goal.
1. Treat the whole person
“Treating patients’ whole selves beyond the drug therapy is increasingly important,” according to Jeff Patton, MD, president of physician services, OneOncology and CEO, Tennessee Oncology, Nashville. “From financial and nutritional counseling to yoga and acupuncture, patients say they are happier, feel valued, and have a more positive outlook on their treatment when physicians, providers and staff listen and help address all aspects of patients’ treatment. It sounds obvious, but listening to patients and treating them like family goes a long way to improving their experience.”
2. Partner with patients
“Foster an authentic partnership with patients,” says Christopher Palmieri, President and CEO, Commonwealth Care Alliance, Boston. “Promote a patient-centered culture that collaborates with individuals and encourages participation in decision-making, ensuring that the patient’s voice is embedded into all aspects of the design and delivery of healthcare your patients receive. Partnering with patients facilitates healthcare experiences that meet patient needs and that help patients achieve their desired health outcome.”
3. Share useful information
“Healthcare providers can make patients happy by providing them with transparency into the cost of care. Patients want to know how much the x-ray is going to cost and what their deductible is-providing them with this information up front is important in removing the enigma around what a visit to the doctor’s office is going to cost,” says Louis Levitt, MD, vice president, Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, Washington, DC.
“It’s also important to provide today’s patients with documentation from their visit, as they will likely not have the same relationship with a singular healthcare provider and thus will opt to keep their own health records,” Levitt says.
4. Increase time spent with patients
One way to improve the patient experience is for healthcare organizations to give physicians more time to interact with patients, according to Christopher Maiona, MD, chief medical officer, PatientKeeper, Inc., Waltham, Massachusetts. “It has been reported that for every hour a doctor spends with a patient, he or she spends two more hours on data entry to feed the EHR system. If we equip doctors with more intuitive, less-intrusive technology tools that support the physician workflow and make their administrative tasks less time consuming, they’ll be able to better connect with patients, which will go a long way toward improving both patient and physician satisfaction,” Maiona says.
5. Build trust
“Patients and families need to know that someone is on their side in uncertain times,” says Hosokawa. “They want to know that someone is advocating for them, fighting with them, and that they can count on. Make them feel that you’re their person. Introduce yourself and your team upon entering the room. Introductions add seconds to a provider’s routine but makes a lasting impression on the patient and family. Be willing to change. The skills that have made you successful in connecting with patients and families up to this point, may need to evolve to meet the needs of today’s empowered consumer.”
6. Use technology wisely
Using mobile technology designed for patient interactions can guide conversations and facilitate meaningful engagements, according to Sue Murphy, RN, BSN, MS, chief experience officer, patient experience and engagement program, UChicago Medicine, Chicago. “Feedback captured in a mobile rounding app can easily be tracked throughout the hospital stay. It can also be used post-discharge during follow-up calls to ensure any patient concerns or identified risks for readmission are addressed. Use intelligent technology to get ahead of potential service issues, pinpoint opportunities for improvement in processes, and identify high-performing staff members. The most rewarding employee recognition is based on patient feedback.”
7. Listen and understand
“The most important thing we can do is listen-really hear what’s happening to our patients and their opinions about what’s going on with their bodies,” says Kevin Gwin, chief patient experience officer, University of Missouri Health Car, Columbia, Missouri. “It demonstrates how much we care and allows them to participate in their treatment.”
Second, says Gwin, understanding how an illness or condition impacts patients’ lives is key. “When we do, it provides an opportunity to be truly empathic. For example, ‘I’m sorry you feel so poorly. This must be difficult for you. I’m glad you’re here. We’re going to help.’ Listening and understanding connects us to our patients, and we begin a relationship that brings trust and healing to both the patient and the provider.”
8. Adjust to patient expectations
“When looking to improve patient experience, it’s important to take into consideration the population you are targeting,” says Levitt. “The ideal patient experience today is much different than the needs and wants of Baby Boomers. It’s also going to be different than the one projected in the future, as millennial preferences drive industry changes. For example, a practice’s online presence could make or break a patient’s decision to pursue care at that facility.”
According to Levitt, wherever millennials receive care, they want the process to be efficient-minimal wait time, effective problem solving, and complete resolution of symptoms. There is less emphasis on building an interpersonal relationship with the provider, Levitt says.
9. Make best use of patient portals
“The patient portal is an excellent way to boost patient empowerment, but providers need to do a better job of endorsing portal use and articulating to the patient how they should be using it,” according to Cathleen McBurney, patient engagement manager, VisionTree Software, Austin, Texas. “The information held within the portal, if used properly, can help patients ask proper questions, learn about their condition and advocate for themselves with both current and future healthcare providers. Giving patients the information they need at the tip of their fingertips, without having to search blindly online makes them more knowledgeable, and even more important, content.”
10. Practice self-care
Nnamdi Ezeanochie, MD, DrPH, senior manager, behavior science and analytics team, Johnson & Johnson Health and Wellness Solutions, recommends healthcare providers practice self-care during their workday. “If they are feeling burned out, their patients might not be receiving optimal care,” Ezeanochie says. “While there are no magic tricks to ward off or prevent burnout, it’s important for providers to focus on the basics of good physical and mental health. Find times during the day to take a moment, rest and reflect. Improving provider well-being, and in turn patient outcomes, has to begin outside of the workplace. While it can be tempting to recoup in front of the TV during time off-getting enough physical activity in our daily lives is important to everyone.”