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3 Best Practices to Improve the Healthcare Patient Experience

Providers must deliver quality care, compassion, and convenient care access to ensure a positive patient experience.

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- As healthcare continues to embrace patient-centered care strategies, industry stakeholders have begun to focus on improving the patient experience.

Per the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the patient experience “encompasses the range of interactions that patients have with the health care system, including their care from health plans, and from doctors, nurses, and staff in hospitals, physician practices, and other health care facilities.”

Patient experience includes elements of healthcare quality, patient satisfaction, and convenient care. As such, healthcare professionals must understand not only what constitutes the patient experience but also how they can support positive patient experience.

Ensuring that patients walk away from a care encounter satisfied and with their needs fulfilled is a vital aspect of healthcare. By focusing on care quality and safety as parts of the patient experience, as well as using patient-centered care tactics to drive patient satisfaction and care access, healthcare professionals can work toward a better patient experience.

Frame patient safety as key to positive patient experiences

Fundamentally, providers need to focus on delivering high-quality healthcare and fostering patient safety in order to create a positive patient experience. If a patient falls ill from a hospital-acquired infection or does not receive effective care that follows proven protocol, then the patient’s experience will suffer.

According to Deirdre Mylod, PhD, Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation and Senior Vice President of Research and Analytics at Press Ganey, ensuring patient safety and quality care is the first step to creating a positive patient experience.

“The way that we approach improvement for patient experience measures is to reframe it. The exercise is not to make consumers happy. The exercise is to reduce patient suffering,” Mylod said.

Providers can reduce patient suffering by being more attentive to latter’s needs. Checking in on call buttons or determining if a patient needs help reaching an item or using the bathroom can help protect patients from falls or other harms, reducing preventable suffering.

Keeping patient-provider communication open can also help reduce patient suffering. By being more comforting to the patient and ensuring she understands her health status can reduce worry and increase trust.

Research shows that incorporating patient safety and care quality as a part of the patient experience can improve outcomes. A recent study in JAMA Surgery shows that negative patient experience reports are often tied to adverse surgical outcomes.

Of the 30,000 surgical patients the research team investigated, 11 percent had reported a negative patient experience. These patient experiences were largely tied to surgical complications, medical complications, and readmissions.

To reduce negative patient experiences, the researchers advised providers to focus on better patient-provider communications. Patients who trust and can speak freely to clinicians are more likely to express a care preference or safety concern.

Treat patient consumerism like a retail experience

Although important, the patient experience does not start and end with quality treatment and patient safety. While providers should place an emphasis on healing the patient and patient safety, there are other components of the patient experience providers should bear in mind.

For Peter Pronovost, MD, PhD, a positive patient experience means that providers went beyond their traditional healing duties and grounded all of their work in respect for the patient.

“For too long, we separated the quality of care and the experience of being cared for as two separate things,” he said. “In reality, I think most care providers said, ‘my job is to cure and those other things – well, they’re someone else’s job.’ If a patient leaves our hospital and says we disrespected them, you better believe that’s a harm, and we have to do something about it.”

Some healthcare professionals choose to model their patient experience efforts after retail experiences. When a consumer shops in a clothing store, they are not only looking for quality goods, but also for respect from sales associates and products that suit their style. The same concept prevails in healthcare, according to Peter S. Fine, FACHE, President and CEO of Banner Healthcare.

As patients bear more out-of-pocket healthcare expenses, they will become choosier about where they access treatment. Healthcare organizations that deliver a consumer-centric experience will be more likely to keep those patients happy — and returning should they need care again — than hospitals that do not practice consumer-centric healthcare.

“As consumers have more choice and healthcare decisions impact their wallets more, they will increasingly compare their healthcare experience to the expectations they have developed in other aspects of their lives,” Fine said. “Healthcare organizations will need to live up to a new service expectation if they want to continue to win the business of their service savvy customers.”

Make healthcare access convenient

Providing a positive patient experience includes more than high care quality and driving patient satisfaction. Patients must also have convenient healthcare access.

Ensuring simple healthcare access means overcoming any barriers patients might face. In rural areas, these might be geographical barriers that providers use telehealth and other technologies to overcome. Other patients might contend with convoluted appointment scheduling, keeping patients from seeing their clinicians in a timely manner.

Other patients face financial barriers to care. According to a January report funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 70 percent of patients who face financial barriers to care need better cost transparency. For patients, payment plans or more clear bill pay instructions can help them better manage their healthcare finances.

Creating a positive patient experience involves several moving parts, including treatment delivery, patient satisfaction, and convenient healthcare access.

These many patient interests may prove challenging for healthcare professionals to balance. However, putting the patient at the center of care can help deliver a better patient experience. At each step of the care encounter, providers should focus on putting patients first, ensuring that both their healthcare and personal needs are met.