Four Elements for Better Patient Experience

By Clark Ridge

Customer satisfaction has long been synonymous with great customer service. Yet when a customer is a patient, his or her needs are drastically different from a customer you might find at a local coffee shop. Patients under physical and emotional stress depend on medical staff and hospitals to provide efficient services and answer difficult questions about health or insurance.

To gauge the effectiveness of care and improve patient satisfaction measurement, medical facilities rely heavily on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Services (HCAHPS). While some hospitals and medical facilities have previously used their own internal reporting tools, HCAHPS is the first national standard for collecting and publicly reporting information about patient care and experience. It can help hospitals improve in some areas, but many have questioned whether it’s a good indicator of a positive experience.

In order to score high on the HCAHPS assessment, a provider may feel the incentive to over-treat or over-prescribe for their patients. Not only does this translate into additional cost, it suggests that a “more is better” approach to patient care is necessary for satisfaction. While the survey aims to empower hospitals by reducing errors and improving patient outcomes, it does not guarantee that patients get the best individualized care. It also places a heavy burden on nurses and other medical staff who must fill in as clerical assistants in addition to providing care.

Improving the patient experience is possible despite the challenges in modern healthcare systems. It starts with an honest look at the factors contributing to inefficiencies or low HCAHPS scores. From there medical facilities can determine the best course of action regarding the tools and services that will improve patient outcome by asking:

  • How will we measure whether this new service or offering improves the patient experience?
  • How will it specifically alleviate the burden on medical staff?
  • Is this offering proven to work in environments similar to ours?
  • Is this solution scalable?
  • How will we measure the return on our investment for this solution?
  • How does it tie back to improving the overall patient experience?

After close examination of what is or is not working, medical facilities should focus on fine-tuning these four key components to ensure patient satisfaction:

1) Automation: Automating administrative tasks, such as appointment booking, alleviates medical professionals from hours of clerical work. Staff are often called to provide directions to a medical office, discuss appointments and hours of operations, or conduct follow-up unnecessarily. Automate the time-intensive administrative work to shift your facility’s resources back to the patient, where individualized medical attention will make all the difference in satisfaction and experience.

2) Specialization: Specialization plays an important role in the healthcare ecosystem. Doctors and nurses can provide a more positive and engaging experience by using their skills and training within their area of expertise. It’s not uncommon for a nurse to conduct patient discharge follow-up after a shift. This type of activity requires an abrupt change of activity and the ability to anticipate patients’ needs. Discharged patients are often suffering from confusion, worry, or stress, and they may need someone without incentive to complete the call quickly.

Patients want high-quality information quickly, and they also want someone to take ownership of their next steps. Focus on specialization training or shift this type of work to specialized employees. Doing so will elevate patients’ experiences long after they’ve left the hospital and build trust between patient and physician.

3) Technology: Adoption rates for cloud contact centers and digital customer service channels are growing, but not all technologies are equal. Be sure to invest in tools and services that are agile, easy to deploy, and scalable. Often medical centers mistakenly choose the cheapest or fastest offerings only to wind up with bigger headaches and lower patient satisfaction.

4) Outsourcing: Outsourcing services may get a bad reputation in some industries, but the right choice will pay back in higher survey scores and increased patient and physician well-being. The majority of patients prefer to speak to someone over the phone even if digital, self-service channels are available.

Medical centers can outsource this type of service to ensure that patients’ needs are met quickly and effectively. Insurance companies have reaped the benefits of outsourcing services for years, and so can medical centers. Select an outsourcing service with a well-designed framework and proven effectiveness for the biggest success on patient outcome.

It’s safe to say that budget constraints, limited resources, and surveys are here to stay, but it doesn’t have to negatively impact patients’ well-being or experiences. Patients respond well to attentive staff and efficient processes. Investing in the right tools, technologies, and services will ensure the strongest impact on ROI and patient outcomes. It will also prevent burnout among staff members and keep employees focused on providing the best medical care possible.

Clark Ridge is the VP Healthcare Solutions at Alorica.

[From AnswerStat June/July 2015]