03 March 2016

Are we missing the mark and providing Poor Patient Experience from the beginning?

The idea of improving patient experience is not new, but we need to ask ourselves some critical questions if we truly want to provide a quality experience for our patients:

  • iStock_000064943389_Medium.jpgAre we starting our improvements in patient experience at the right point in time?
  • Are we treating patient experience as an event (e.g., office visit, treatment, appointment) rather than an ongoing conversation with our patients?  In other words, are we as concerned with the communications before and after the treatment as we are with the actual visit itself?  If so, do our patients feel that way as well?
  • Are we asking too many questions; do our patients feel we should already know the answers?
  • Who are providers competing with when it comes to patient experience?  Commonly now, consumers of healthcare compare their hospital experience with how they experience other consumer services, from activities at restaurants to online shopping.  If your bank, airline or utility provides a certain level of advanced care in your interactions with them, it sets the bar for your expectations of the service and engagement levels that other organizations should have.

With the concept of improved customer experience being so important to many enterprises, it’s not surprising that healthcare has been swept along too.  Yet, an important part of the patient experience in healthcare is being overlooked, and this oversight is hurting both the bottom line and how a patient engages with you.

When does patient experience begin and end?

Let’s look at a common understanding of the concept of patient experience.  There’s quite a bit of material out there on it, and research by the Beryl Institute stands out.  Their extensive work on defining patient experience is a great place to start and helps put a construct for the issues many are seeing.  The Beryl Institute proposes that patient experience is “the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care.”

In thinking about this definition, it seems that providers tend to emphasize treatment instead of the total patient experience that this definition advocates.  Provider’s interactions with patients (or prospective patients) before and after treatment are commonly overlooked or undervalued.

It’s often pointed out that customers are doing more and more independent research before engaging any supplier, with over half of the “buying cycle” being completed before a customer even engages a provider.  Demographics and the ubiquity of access to information are contributing to acceleration of this trend.  A 2015 American Society for Quality survey found that 83 percent of patients desired improved communications between patients and caregivers as a priority for improved patient experience.

Additionally, we see the millennial generation changing the way healthcare services are consumed by utilizing online resources in far greater numbers.  In one survey obtained by FierceHealthCare, almost a quarter of millennials won’t ask for referrals at all, instead opting to research it themselves.  If millennial interactions with your organization are substandard, how many of those new patients are you going to attract?  Or, how many patients will you keep if their interactions with your group are continually marred by multiple phone calls, endless transfers, frequent repeating of the account information and delays in patients receiving valuable information such as lab results?

A good patient experience begins much earlier –before a patient contacts you.


What does patient experience include?

What we’re clearly seeing now is that many customers want to engage with healthcare providers using the same methodologies, tools and media as they do with other enterprises.  Among other things, their preferences include the ability to…

  • Easily connect with a provider of choice
  • Browse relevant, informative content on products and services available at a given provider
  • Communicate with a provider in their channel of choice
  • Have seamless conversations across multiple communication channels
  • Self serve because the provider offers relevant, real time information

Unfortunately, we see many healthcare organizations begin the patient experience continuum with a poor interaction.  It could be as simple as a patient having a frustrating phone interaction with an interactive voice response system.  Or it could be that there is no way to schedule an appointment (outside of calling) with a clinic once the customer has made a decision, even if the customer is already in the clinic’s system.  And forget about an interaction with a provider that crosses multiple channels (email, voice, or chat) and keeping that conversation coherent and meaningful to both the provider and the customer.  In most cases, that initial poor interaction with a patient sets a negative tone for the process, leaving the provider with the chore of overachieving during follow up interactions – care and post care. However, healthcare providers have in-office challenges to. Many times, low patient experience also occurs when there are staffing issues at the hospital, leading to longer wait times and disjointed quality of care.

There is great progress being made in patient experience, but with much of the effort focused on in-office treatment we’re missing the chance to improve both the bottom line and the overall patient experience by not addressing the initial interactions with patients.

We can do better, and in future blogs I’ll tackle how and where we can improve patient experience and foundational interactions with customers as patients moves across the care continuum.


Authored bY

Joseph Haas

As director of business development and alliance manager for PTP, I’ve worked with the best customer experience solution providers in the market. I love working with partners and customers to solve complex customer experience and business consumer interaction challenges. I see similarities of enterprises in Health and Life Sciences to other enterprises in rapidly changing industries and believe there is vast opportunity to create truly amazing customer interactions.


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