Few things are more stressful than trying to navigate the healthcare system, and if patients have a bad experience on top of that, it adds to their stress and can even slow the healing process. While providers are primarily focused on health outcomes, a focus on improving patient experience is equally important.
Why patient experience is so important in healthcare
Research shows that high rates of patient satisfaction correlate directly with good patient outcomes. The bottom line is that patient experience is inextricable from the quality of care.
Aside from quality of care, patient experience is a huge factor in your reputation as a healthcare provider, and it influences whether your organization is recommended and well-reviewed (or not) by patients. If a patient has a bad experience with a physician and goes on to leave a bad review online, this could dissuade a lot of future potential patients from visiting your clinic. To put it another way, patient experience has a direct effect on your financial success — and in the highly competitive world of healthcare, that really matters.
How does patient experience influence patient outcomes?
A patient’s experience will have a great effect on how they’re feeling emotionally, and a person’s mental and emotional health affects their physical health. Simply put, if someone is stressed out and unhappy with the care they’re receiving, they’re less likely to get better quickly.
Imagine yourself in a less-than-ideal patient experience scenario: You don’t feel well and you’re waiting for test results while you lie in a hospital bed under a scratchy blanket. The doctor mispronounced your name, didn’t go into much detail about possible diagnoses and didn’t have time to answer your questions. You can hear another patient moaning out in the hallway, unattended. You’re scared, uncomfortable and unsure if you’re getting quality care. What you need to do is get some rest, but sleep feels impossible.
Good patient experience is about giving people the support they need to improve health outcomes — whether that support is attentive staff or a quiet, comfortable space.
We’ve pulled together five tips to get you thinking about how to improve patient experience at your organization.
5 ways to improve patient experience
1. Take a holistic healthcare approach
Borrowing a page from holistic healthcare’s book can create immediate, positive changes in patient satisfaction. Holistic health considers mental, spiritual and emotional health, as well as a patient’s physical health. Offering resources that support a person’s whole health can create the groundwork for healing.
Provide patients access to counselors and mental healthcare professionals if needed. Working with a therapist through a difficult time like a cancer diagnosis can be essential in helping patients cope and follow a treatment plan. Encourage regular visits from friends, family and church leaders to boost patients’ spirits. Put resources toward maintaining calm and inviting prayer and meditation spaces.
Keeping patients connected and engaged in other aspects of their health will help them deal with their illness and make them feel that they’re receiving good care.
2. Make the most of patient experience surveys
Getting feedback straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, is the easiest way to learn how your organization can improve patient experience. Gathering data can show you your organization’s weakest areas and potentially give you insight into creative ways to increase patient satisfaction. Consider customizing the standard HCAHPS survey to include questions about areas you’re particularly interested in.
If you’re seeing multiple responses about one department always running behind schedule or a certain physician with a cold bedside manner, you’ll have a pretty clear idea of where to focus your improvement efforts.
Don’t discount the true experts on patient experience — the patients themselves. Regularly surveying patients will let you evaluate individual staff, as well as teams, departments and facilities as a whole.
3. Create personalized patient experiences
Uncertainty causes stress. The uncertainty of what’s going to happen at the hospital and what a diagnosis means for your health is a big factor in the stress associated with health problems. Do what you can to eliminate uncertainty by making sure your organization offers consistent, personalized communication for patients every step of the way.
Here are a few ways you can use personalized communication to improve patient experience:
Simple, printed handouts that are personalized with a diagnosis and contact information for their doctor can make patients feel at ease.
Provide patient education brochures that include information about a patient’s specific condition, next steps in their treatment plan, future appointment times and locations, medication instructions, tips to alleviate symptoms, etc.
Even things like doctors’ emails, notices on research studies, and flyers for hospital events and education programs can all be customized to give a cohesive look and feel to every department in your hospital.
Providing customized patient communication across your entire organization will let patients and their families know they’re in good, organized hands. They’ll be properly informed and know what to expect while receiving care at your hospital.
4. Foster employee engagement
A surefire way to increase patient satisfaction is to make sure patients are cared for by focused, committed employees. Staff who feel engaged at work are much more likely to be happy with their job and pass that on to the patient.
Employee engagement surveys are right up there with patient experience surveys in indicating the health of your organization. Soliciting employee feedback, and then listening and responding to it, is an important step in making your staff feel heard and valued. Take steps to offer regular, clear views into how employees contribute to your hospital’s mission. Give managers the training they need to create open, trusting relationships with their staff.
Focusing on employee engagement will pay off double in that you’ll end up with happier employees and happier patients.
5. Emphasize emotional intelligence
Feeling dismissed by staff or a physician is a common complaint among patients. Teaching your staff to provide kind, calm, compassionate care is one of the best ways to improve the patient experience.
Healthcare providers experience more than their fair share of stress, being subject to long shifts, unexpected events and life-and-death situations. Learning to manage their own stress and emotions can help your staff be better in tune with patients’ nonphysical needs. That way doctors and nurses will be able to accommodate and support patients as they deal with health problems.
Company-wide training for emotional intelligence can benefit every single person at your organization and make for an all-around more compassionate environment.
Improving the patient experience will take a comprehensive effort. Thomas H. Lee, MD, a primary care provider at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, put it well when he said, “The real goal has to be cultural change.”