Provider organizations can hardly afford to abandon patient experience efforts in the face of healthcare's growing labor crisis, the rising tide of post-pandemic clinician burnout, and financial stressors.
Fostering positive, low-friction interactions between patients, clinicians, and the care system is central to patient-centered and value-based care. Now is the time to solidify patient goodwill and loyalty coming out of the pandemic. Given patients' increasing expectations for an efficient, digitally-supported experience, this is a moment of opportunity for providers to grow closer to their new and potential patients.
Focus: Patient experience or patient satisfaction?
Patient satisfaction has been the focus of healthcare organizations, ramping up for payers in 2020 when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began to revise its Star rating system to shift more weight to the patient experience.
Providers haven't escaped the patient satisfaction imperative either. While patients' likelihood to recommend their provider healthcare experience to others peaked in March 2020, it has declined since. Press Ganey's nationwide survey in November 2021 revealed a 4.5% decrease in the likelihood of recommending.
Patient experience improvements will boost patient satisfaction
When we look at how patient experience is linked to patient satisfaction, we see the interplay of interactions and expectations. CMS defines the patient experience as encompassing “the range of interactions that patients have with the healthcare system, including their care from health plans, and doctors, nurse and staff in hospitals, physician practices, and other healthcare facilities." On the other hand, patient satisfaction focuses on a patient's expectations and subjective opinions, as opposed to the characteristics and mechanisms of their encounter.
As provider organizations weather the current labor and financial scenario, tapping into digital health tools can provide capacity to focus on strategic efforts towards patient experience.
Going beyond the digital front door
Strategies for improving the patient experience have focused extensively on adopting digital tools and approaches to streamline tasks like scheduling, registration, and payment. And, in the case of telehealth, investment into the provision of care itself is changing delivery.
While many organizations have invested in digital front doors, it's time to examine how the entry point across channels connects and encourages positive experiences throughout the patient journey. These include shopping for care, selecting a provider, initiating service, and other aspects like education, referrals, and self-care.
Digital technology supports clinician-patient experience and decision-making
As important as these capabilities are—for easing staff burdens and improving patient convenience—the patient experience encompasses how clinicians engage with patients. For example, shared decision-making holds promise to not only improve collaborative relationships between patient and physician, but to increase goodwill between consumers and the healthcare system.
Digital technologies and digital experiences can support shared decision-making by respecting, protecting, and promoting patients' choices. Automated and timely engagement, interventions, education, and surveys can offer advice but also reinforce the positive choices that patients make every day. This not only builds their confidence and quality of life but also rapport among their clinician, care team, patient, and family caregivers.
Digital tech supports culturally competent care
Cultural humility and competence are timely movements. Demonstrating that individual care team members understand and honor a patient's culture, race, and preferences contributes significantly to a positive experience and higher satisfaction levels. Culturally competent care is a key experience strategy that can help providers better connect with patients of diverse backgrounds. Plus, it's essential to addressing social determinants of health in pursuit of improved health equity.
Digital tools and technologies – like natural language processing, machine learning, robotic process automation, and artificial intelligence – hold great promise for delivering more culturally-aware care. Digital technology is essential to in-the-moment cultural connections:
- health team reminders that ask questions about race and language
- requesting interpreter services
- English-to-native language medical term dictionaries or translators for
Digital tools support continuous quality improvement
In most cases, the best way to improve the patient experience is to ask patients themselves. According to Press Ganey's 2021 Consumer Experience Trends in Healthcare report, “digital drives choice."
- They found that “Patients rely on digital resources 2.2x more than provider referrals when choosing a healthcare provider."
- When quality of care is seen as equal, “patients rate 'customer service' (70.8%) and “communication" (63.4%) as more important than even 'bedside manner' when it comes to a 5-star experience.
- Convenience is critical as “63% prefer to book an appointment digitally (vs. 36.8% by phone call)."
Here, again, we see the relationship between experience and satisfaction.
- 84% of patients surveyed by Press Ganey “would not see a referred provider with less than a 4-star rating."
Digital technology, along with creative solutions, can help fill the workforce gap while encouraging provider financial health.
Utilizing appropriate levels of healthcare professionals, combined with telehealth or other digital technologies, can extend and scale care capacity. Honing in on what patient's need now can reveal opportunities to deploy a digital solution to a quality healthcare request.
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