5 ways for hospitals to improve patient experience

christine varela

Christine Varela

Jul 21, 2015 | Health Care, Point of View

5 ways to improve patient experience

TODAY, WOWING PATIENTS with a positive experience is critical—only 54 percent of healthcare consumers tell peers about a positive experience compared to 70 percent of retail and 66 percent of banking customers. Consumers are less forgiving of providers with whom they have had a negative experience and seem to recall the bad experiences longer. (PwC Study: Consumer Experience in Health Care, 2014.)

To supplement the national research, DH recently conducted qualitative research with health care consumers across the Northwest to help us get underneath perceptions and preferences when it comes to their healthcare choices.

Participants responses included desires for more time with physicians, decreased wait times, and a concierge experience. Based on the findings, here are 5 areas hospitals can focus on to improve the patient experience.

1. Walk in their shoes.

To improve the patient experience it’s important to experience it firsthand. Park where they park. Read the wayfinding signs. Ask questions of hospital staff. In essence, be your own secret shopper. Schedule a visit with a doctor. How long is the wait time? How are you greeted upon arrival? What does the physical environment look like? What is your interaction with the nurses like? How long do you get with your doctor?

Perform an audit of every communication you encounter. Visit the website to book an appointment. Read the blog; do you find the information interesting? Look at the bills patients receive. Are they confusing?

Reviewing these materials provides an opportunity to ensure your organization is represented consistently in tone, messaging, and visual identity. Every output from your hospital needs to align with your brand and your values.

And don’t forget to ask your patients directly. Make it part of your communications plan to conduct patient surveys bi-annually. Use an exit survey that patients fill out as they leave the hospital, while their experience is still fresh in their mind.

Or consider taking a deeper dive: facilitate focus groups with recent patients or conduct one-on-one interviews, asking more in-depth questions about their experience.

2. This is a team sport.

With health care providers, staff attitude is cited as the main contributor to a positive experience by 70 percent of consumers, compared to only 38 percent of retail shoppers and 33 percent of bank and airline customers. (PwC Study: Consumer Experience in Health Care, 2014.)

Your patients should experience your brand in their dealings with every staff member, from their first impression at the front desk to their last impression with billing. Everyone you employ represents the brand with words and actions.

Train staff to live your brand through consistent internal communications conveying your values and messages. Train employees at all levels on your organization values and how to approach interaction with patients. Train employees to look beyond their day-to-day functions of their job to the purpose of the work—to serve and empower, to provide a positive experience for patients.

But don’t get heavy handed It’s about empowering them to live the brand values. It starts with letting your employees know how crucial they are as part of the patient experience and how they directly contribute to the hospital’s success.

3. Recognize and reward.

Make this your mantra: happy employees = happy patients. As we’ve said, your employees are a HUGE part of the patient experience. Your efforts to improve the patient satisfaction will fall flat unless you get employees onboard.

The title of a Press Ganey and Associates report posed the question, “Do Satisfied patients depend on satisfied employees?” The answer is yes. The report found a strong correlation between the satisfaction of hospital employees and patient satisfaction.

It isn’t just increased compensation that makes for happy employees (though that helps).

Employee recognition programs are an important way to not only engage employees and improve their productivity and job satisfaction but to motivate them to provide the customer service your patients deserve.

Employee recognition programs should include simple things like providing praise and showing gratitude. But don’t stop there. You might consider providing awards for excellence or rewards (money, gifts, peer-to-peer recognition) for a job well done. Remember it’s about empowering your employees.

4. Learn from other industries.

According to a data charted by Statista earlier this year, healthcare is ranked as one of the industries with the worst customer service—only government and telecommunications received worst rankings.

There are a number of industries that depend on customer service for their competitive edge such as hospitality, restaurants, and retail. While your services are not luxuries—they are often life and death—your patients have choices for where they pursue their care. Patients are not only seeking care from other healthcare professionals but acupuncturists, naturopaths, the Internet, and family and friends.

The American Hospital Association Health Forum® recently published “Whitepaper: Bringing the Amazon Experience to Healthcare.” As stated in this resource about Amazon’s approach to customer service and its application to the healthcare industry, Amazon “treats getting you the teddy bear on time like it’s life or death. In healthcare, where it is life or death, you are treated like a number.”

Bottom line: Patients have a choice and they expect exceptional customer service. We live in a time when consumers expect an experience along with the product or service they buy. Getting a cup of coffee, for example, is about often more about the comfortable couch at your corner coffee shop while surfing the web or chatting with a friend than it is buying a Cup of Joe.

True, coffee shops don’t face the regulations the healthcare industry does. But don’t dismiss what these customer service-centric industries can teach you.

Customers (of any industry) want to be heard and understood and have their needs met. Look for small opportunities to improve the experience. Make patient-centered customer service a part of your brand. Treat patients like customers—not just a demographic. From their very first impression of your hospital, let your patients know that you are committed to their care.

5. Make it about the patient.

Your team won’t transform the patient experience without the help of a clearly defined plan. Map the patient experience—entry to exit (this is where your secret shopping audit will come in handy).

Address the high volume service lines first. Improve the touch points patients have within the department. Identify ways to make these aspects of the patient experience more enjoyable. It might be a simple tactic (repaint the wall) or it might be more complicated (provide brand ambassador training to all staff members in that department). Start with the simplest and/or highest leverage tactics first.

Can your hospital give patients less wait time, more time with their doctor, and a more concierge-type environment? If so, you’re miles ahead of the competition.

Focus on the overall experience. Focus on simple successes you can achieve.

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