A good patient experience is essential for gaining and retaining patients. When patients have a good experience, they become more involved in their own treatment, which can lead to better outcomes and a strong loyalty to you as their primary care provider. If patients like and trust you, they will continue to visit your practice for years to come. They are also likely to recommend you to their family and their friends on social media too.
Your medical care and outcome may be of a high standard and accommodate their physical needs, but if the patient experience is poor because of, say, a lack of emotional support – then the net result is your patients may still go to a competitor in the future who promises a superior experience.
The patient experience is a leading indicator of health care quality and can be used to measure and improve patient satisfaction.
A patient’s experience takes in all their interactions with your healthcare practice and covers:
- Clinical care
- Patient safety
- Clinical effectiveness
What’s the difference between patient experience and patient satisfaction?
We know that the patient experience encompasses all interactions between a patient and a healthcare provider. Patient satisfaction is about successfully meeting a patient’s expectations and depends on their experience. Understanding how patient experiences (the interactions) affect patient satisfaction (fulfillment) is vital for achieving true patient-centred care.
Primary care providers need to deliver care that’s respectful of individual patient preferences, responsive to personal needs and values, and encourages them to play a more active role in their own treatment.
A good patient experience and high satisfaction levels come from setting expectations correctly throughout the course of care, not just at the outset.
What are patient expectations?
Think of patient expectations as the aspirations or desires of patients. Their expectations are not fixed and may actually change over time.
These expectations come from the information health care providers give them before, during, and after interactions – and are filtered through the lens of what the patient believes to be true.
What are the elements that patients need for an excellent patient experience?
Whilst different patients have different needs; most will value thorough personalised attention and advice that feels unrushed.
But if patients can’t trust you to be dependable, they’ll soon leave and go to your competitor. That’s why you need to take an unbiased look at their feedback and ask;
- Can your patients truly rely on you?
- Are you ‘meaningfully available’ when they need you?
- Do you have clear guidelines in place to set expectations?
- Are your team up to date and fully onboard with your patient experience goals?
Consumerism – the patient as a customer
All of this is important because long gone are the days when patients had a choice of just a few healthcare providers. Competition is only getting more intense, and it’s increasingly important for healthcare providers to focus on patient experience if they want to stand out and attract (and keep!) new high-value patients.
The sophistication and power of online search tools mean that people are shopping for healthcare services in the same way they’re shopping for other products, goods, and services. So in that sense, patients have evolved into consumers or healthcare customers, and the most successful healthcare providers are adjusting to this shift.
The good news is that there is extraordinary demand for many high-value private treatments, but just as demand shapes all markets, patients are now shaping the private healthcare market. When patients evaluate which healthcare provider to continue to go ahead with, they’ll look at three areas:
Success – can this provider fix the health issue I’m facing?
Effort – how easy will it be to interact with them when I need them?
Emotion – how have the interactions been so far, and how did those make me feel? Do I feel at ease that I have chosen an ally in getting healthier, or do I feel like I’ve made a mistake?
According to recent studies, like this one from Super Office, 86% of consumers are willing to pay more for a great experience.
How to improve your patient experience
Patients want to be at the centre of everything healthcare professionals do, and it’s vital they feel heard, valued, and involved throughout the course of their patient journey.
We’ve created the following framework to help you get an accurate overall picture of where you are right now and how to raise your patient experience game – so that you’ll be judged as delivering the best experience and the highest quality health care.
9 keys to unlocking a 5 star patient experience
#1 Gauge your patient experience
If you want to improve, you need to fully understand the level of experience patients are getting right now.
Gauging and understanding your patient experience can be achieved in a few ways, but here are some pointers to get you started.
Measure Perception – what the customers feel and think about their interactions with your practice.
Use tools like:
- NPS (Net Promoter Score)
- Health questionnaires that measure clinical outcomes
- CARE Patient feedback forms that measure the patient’s experience
- Satisfaction scores
- Complaint Analysis
Complaints are incredibly valuable if you think of them as data that will help you see the blind spots in your patient journey. Try to find out if there are any recurring themes in the complaints.
Go through your patient touch-points and work out how to make their journey simpler and as low friction as possible (without compromising compliance or patient safety!). Consider making the patient journey more straightforward or introduce a new bookings platform they would enjoy using.
#2 Know your numbers!
As with everything else, what gets measured gets improved! When you know your numbers, you’ll be able to tell when you’ve successfully made the improvements you wanted.
Numbers to understand:
- The average time for an appointment
- The number of clicks to book an appointment online etc.
- Churn rates (the number of people who’ve told you they’re going to other providers)
- Stalled treatment value
- Checking social media engagement (likes, shares, and comments)
#3 Know who your ideal customers are
Your healthcare practice is unique, and it’s essential to be comfortable with the fact that you’re not going to be suitable for everyone. And that’s OK!
If you want to grow by increasing uptake from new ideal patients who’ll value what you do and want to pay what you’re worth, then you will need to know who those patients are. That’s where patient personas come in.
Patient personas are simply fictional representations of the best patients for your practice or clinic. They’re a mashup of real patients and they help you adjust your patient experience around their common needs and characteristics.
There are three kinds of patient personas to think about.
- Your current best patient. They’re already a part of your practice buying the treatments you want to deliver most.
- The ideal patient. Someone who hasn’t gone ahead with treatment yet might if they feel sure that what you offer will help them.
- The non-ideal patient. These are people who wouldn’t be a good fit with what you offer or would have other reasons not to buy from you. For example, they could have unrealistic expectations around playing their part in their own treatment or expecting a much lower price.
The more information you can use to define your ideal patients, the better you’ll be able to accommodate them, so they have the very best patient experience possible.
# 4 Get a Patient Experience Lead
Allocate a team member to be responsible for ensuring patients’ voices are heard across your practice or clinic so you can understand what your patients really want.
#5 Engage with patients
Ensure appropriate team members feel empowered to engage patients and ask questions, whether that’s through face-to-face conversations or email etc. Encourage everyone to get involved in improving patient experience, whatever their role.
#6 Define your patient experience vision
Knowing what you want the experience to look like for your patients and being able to share that vision with your staff is crucial in successfully delivering it.
You need to be able to share your vision with everyone so you can get their buy-in.
The best way to do that is to get your whole team involved and support them – that’s going to help create an environment where everyone feels empowered to work toward a shared goal.
#7 Create a Patient Experience Improvement plan
You’ve engaged with patients and have a good understanding of the experience they’re getting – and the experience they want. Next, it’s time to create an actionable plan with clear goals.
#8 Set timelines
Once you have an actionable plan, you’ll need to give yourself a timeline with key milestones to achieve your goals. This will help you turn your insights into action quickly.
#9 Assess and Review
Continually assess and review your patient plan to make the necessary changes if the current course of action isn’t having the right impact. A great way of doing this is to continue to gather patient feedback – encourage patients to keep you on your toes with every aspect of health care quality by leaving reviews, sharing their experiences with friends and family, and sharing their stories on social media.
The idea is to generate a flywheel effect.
The better your patient experience >, the more people will talk about it > the more new patients you’ll get > which will increase profits > so you can allocate more resources to > keep making your patient experience better.
Taking a long view
Patient experience isn’t something you can work on for a couple of months, make a few changes and then forget. It’s an area of your business that you need to develop and constantly improve.
That’s because a good customer experience:
- Reduces churn
- Increases revenues
- Builds ‘brand’ loyalty
It feeds into all aspects of your business, so you must focus on the customer experience in your healthcare business for the long term.
The ‘Any time, any channel’ economy
It’s a busy, connected world. Notifications are pinging, endless sources of information and entertainment are available on phones, and patients have so many distractions stealing their attention – and time.
Patients now expect to be able to communicate with you on the channel they want at a time that’s most convenient for them. That’s why being flexible in how you communicate with them is a super important part of the patient experience for health care providers.
Remote technologies are improving experiences
Embracing technology is a great way to improve the patient experience, and a survey from Accenture showed that:
- 60% of patients want to use technology more for communication with healthcare providers
- 41% used video conferencing for communicating
- Out of those, 70% were using it for the first time in interactions with healthcare
- 44% of patients used devices or apps to help manage symptoms remotely
So ensure you’re providing patients with the tools and platforms they want.
Why developing your team is vital for a great patient experience
The patient experience you deliver is a reflection of your team’s professionalism and your culture.
A good patient experience plays a big part in patients’ satisfaction with their health professionals, but every interaction needs to be at the same high standard every time (consistency is essential).
Moving to a more patient-centred care model that considers an individual’s needs and makes them feel valued and listened to will help improve your patient experience.
Every person in the team must be patient-centric and have some form of customer care training with a good understanding of your treatments. Your team needs to understand your vision, mission, and values before they can buy into them.
Developing and communicating must come from the leaders in the practice. That doesn’t have to be the practice or clinic owner, but you will need someone to steer the ship and lead the charge. That will take time to develop and execute, but having the foundations in place will set you up for success.
When your team is educated and empowered, you’ll have their buy-in. Then they’ll have the knowledge, confidence, and processes needed to deliver that world-class patient experience you know you can provide!