How to Improve Patient Experiences
Celebrity lawyer Louis Nizer said: “Words of comfort, skillfully administered, are the oldest therapy known to man.” There’s significant truth in that statement, especially in the medical industry, where compassion and competency can define a physician’s reputation.
The patient experience can be a stressful one, and there are countless potential sources of anxiety: unpredictable waits, uncomfortable conversations, medical examinations and testing, uncertainty about information, and apprehension about outcomes. As a physician, you’re in an ideal position to offer much more than medical therapy to ease your patients’ discomfort.
It may be simpler and easier than you think to make a difference. Improving the patient care experience can reduce your patient’s stress levels dramatically and it can also increase your patient’s satisfaction overall. A study in The American Journal of Medicine, among others, demonstrated that a positive patient experience is linked to a reduced risk of malpractice claims. Improving the patient experience even has a ripple effect on the satisfaction of your own employees. A case study in Journal of Ambulatory Care Management reported a 4.7% lower rate of employee turnover after a hospital made a concerted, systemic effort to elevate the patient experience.
Ready to Take Action? Below are five easy steps on how to improve patient EXPERIENCE that will help your patients feel more comfortable - without investing a SIGNIFICANT amount of money, time, or resources.
1. Put yourself in your patients shoes
Try looking at your practice through the eyes of a patient. How comfortable is your waiting room? How convenient is the parking area? How clear is the signage in the building? How clean are the bathrooms? If you’ve never been seated in your waiting room chairs or struggled to cross the parking lot using crutches, how can you know what it’s like from your patient’s perspective? Once you understand what your patient experiences, you’ll be in a better position to enhance that with simple adjustments such as having staff empty overflowing trash cans more frequently or replace the sticky magazines in the waiting room with fresh reading material.
2. communicate clearly
Surveys show patients want strong communication with and among their healthcare providers. This is a win for both physicians and patients. When patients have a clear understanding of their health condition, treatment options, and care plan, it increases their compliance and improves their outcome. When patients are listened to attentively, it increases your ability to diagnose and treat your patient successfully. Patients also want the entire healthcare team to be kept up to date. When communication between all your staff is consistent, for instance if you’re aware of a patient’s question because your receptionist already passed it along to you, patients feel as though they are receiving responsible care.
3. involve patients in their care
Patients want to be active participants in their own care, from major treatment decisions to minor details. Empower your patients by giving them increased access to their health records. Let them schedule appointments online. Patients can also be given some responsibility for the experience of others; you can post signs asking them to refrain from disruptive cell phone use in the waiting room, for example, or to report a bathroom in need of cleaning.
4. Don't drop the blame game
Despite best intentions, things sometimes go wrong. How your practice handles a problem will have a direct impact on your patient’s experience. Avoid the temptation to respond defensively, shift the blame, or hedge responsibility. In this moment, your patient needs your staff to be on his side. Listen to his concerns. Offer to make the situation right. Find a solution, even if that means tracking down someone who is better equipped to deal with the problem. Thank the patient for bringing this problem to your attention. These are the main components of the Cleveland Clinic’s revolutionary “Respond with H.E.A.R.T.” training program, which has been successfully taught to more than 20,000 hospital employees. After the Cleveland Clinic implemented this program, its patient-satisfaction ranking among 6,000 American hospitals soared from the bottom 10% to the top 6%.
5. Remember to smile
A study commissioned by the Cleveland Clinic found that when physicians and nurses didn’t appear happy, it translated into lower patient satisfaction. When patients encountered an unhappy demeanor, they worried that healthcare staff were either reacting to the patient or concealing unpleasant information. Avoiding eye contact can be another source of stress for the patient. Make an effort to smile, address patients by their names, be open and direct, and say thank you. While small, these positive interactions can transform the patient experience.
How do your patients feel after a visit to your office? These five steps will provide a good path to improvement, but ultimately, a key part of refining your patients’ experience involves asking for feedback to understand what specific areas you can focus on. Capson’s Physician Protection Program, allows practices to build and maintain healthy patient relationships, create product evangelists who grow your practice and reputation, and lower the frequency of non-meritorious claims.