It’s true that in nearly every industry, the experience is everything. Failing to meet customer expectations is most certainly the demise, as the Amazon effect and consumerism have pushed people to expect more for less without delays or frustration. Yet, in healthcare – still many patients face delays and frustration at every step of their healthcare experience. Difficulties often start early with scheduling, insurance verification, authorization of services, and a myriad of other patient-facing problems, including confusion over where to go or what to expect before and after services are rendered, the list goes on.
That’s why the patient experience has become amongst healthcare’s hottest topic and a primary focus of immediate improvement. Dating back as early as 2007, academic medical centers started focusing on the patient experience and over the past decade, the movement has widely spread to hospitals and health systems of all sizes. Many organizations are hiring Chief Experience Officers (CXOs) or have established interdisciplinary teams to help lead the effort – much of which will focus on access, communication, and improving patient satisfaction from prior to an encounter and all the way through, to the point the patient’s bill has been accurately and timely paid in full.
The Link Between Experience, Outcomes, and Reimbursement
Aside from the frustration factor, many healthcare consumers don’t realize that the patient experience can actually have an impact on patient outcomes, too. Factors like patient communication, which is a critical element of the patient experience, can impact a patient’s understanding of their plan of care or the intricacies of their insurance coverage. Patients who aren’t engaged or don’t feel confident in their care teams may be less likely to adhere to medical advice. Delays in scheduling or the inability to reach a provider or care team member can impact timely access to care, and ultimately, outcomes.
On the provider side, when the patient experience fails to meet expectations, so does revenue. Aside from the fact that a dissatisfied patient may choose to go somewhere else next time (and quite possibly tell others to as well), a portion of reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid payments is now tied directly to HCAHPS survey results that measure a patient’s perception of their experience. This survey addresses important topics like communication from doctors and nurses, responsiveness, and much more. For the outpatient and ambulatory surgery side, CAHPS is a similar CMS survey that’s currently optional but will also eventually be tied to reimbursement. This survey addresses topics like getting timely care and appointments, communication, coordination of care, and much more.
It’s clear that the patient experience is about much more than happy patients. If you’re serious about focusing on patient satisfaction and the patient experience, here are a few tips to get you started on the road to much healthier, more satisfied patients – and a better bottom line.
Three Key Strategies for Enhancing the Patient Experience
- Map the Patient Journey – Making improvements to the patient experience requires thinking like a patient – which often proves to be very difficult for healthcare workers in the trenches. To really understand what it’s like to be a patient, you have to put yourself in their shoes. To do this, journey-mapping is key. Every single step a patient takes throughout their encounter is an opportunity for process improvement and should be mapped. Patient Experience journey-mapping involves interviewing patients and/or conducting focus groups, which allows you to learn more about patients’ points of satisfaction and dissatisfaction throughout their healthcare experience. Care Pathway journey-mapping can also help – this is the practice of evaluating patient behaviors and what drives their decisions from searching for care, choosing a provider, receiving care, and/or services through future encounters. Both types of journey-mapping can be very helpful when trying to enhance the patient experience.
- Engage Your Physicians – Physicians play a critical, yet an often-overlooked role in the patient experience. While Physicians are just one of many players, research shows they play a role as the chief influencer. That is to mean, even when they’re not in the room – they are having a significant impact on the care and the patients’ perception of care being delivered. Leading by example when it comes to communication doesn’t always come naturally to physicians. Engaging physicians in patient experience efforts and initiatives and arming them with the tools and training they need to change behaviors is critical. Organizations that offer training for medical staff on soft skills such as communication will fare better on patient satisfaction surveys such as HCAHPS and others.
- Focus on Follow-Through – Like any sport, the patient experience is all about the follow-through. If a patient has a stellar experience but receives an inaccurate bill for $25K that they can’t reach anyone to dispute – chances are they’ll forget all the wonderful elements of their encounter in no time. Ensuring your scheduling, insurance information capture, pre-authorization procedures, medical coding, claim billing, call center, and patient financial services teams are not only top-notch performers, but also customer service experts, is critical.
GeBBS Healthcare Solutions offers a full continuum of patient scheduling and contact, insurance verification, pre-authorizations, coding, auditing, billing, and self-pay solutions for busy health systems looking to focus on improving the patient experience. To learn more, visit www.gebbs.com.