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Adaptability Key in Consumer-Centered Healthcare, Patient Experience

A recent report outlined patient preferences and strategies for improving patient-centered care and patient experience.

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Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- As hospitals and health systems face an uncertain future, they will need to be agile and ready to deliver the consumer-centered care that yields positive patient satisfaction and engagement, according to a recent report from NRC Health.

The report, which outlined healthcare trends from 2018 into the future, revealed that despite patient satisfaction with the current healthcare industry, hospitals and health systems face and uphill climb. After all, hospital visits have tapered off in recent years, leaving some health systems with deep financial woes.

The key to addressing those concerns is understanding what the patient wants and shifting healthcare offerings to deliver that, the report authors stated.

But the survey of over 1 million healthcare consumers across the country showed that patients have conflicting needs when it comes their healthcare. For example, 87 percent of patients said their providers treat them with courtesy and respect, marking an overall positive view of the healthcare system.

And yet some non-clinical pain points get in the way of an overall positive patient experience. Seventy-seven percent of patients said wait room times were a deep source of dissatisfaction. Sixty-seven percent of patients said they did not feel respected by an office’s non-clinical staff, and 34 percent had negative experiences with an organization’s billing department or billing process.

READ MORE: Patient Experience Drives Patient Loyalty Over Standard Marketing

Additionally, patients said their providers need more access to patient case histories, with only 28 percent of patients saying they felt their doctors knew enough about them at the onset of an encounter.

“Patients’ largely split verdict on health systems highlights the need for hospitals to examine the accompanying parts of the care experience that leave patients feeling unsatisfied,” said NRC Health president Steve Jackson.

“The data reveals that hospitals have a problem if patients are walking away feeling positive about their provider but negative about their entire care experience,” Jackson continued. “Hospitals have an opportunity to develop inventive solutions that will help fill the gap and build loyalty with patients and turn them into lifelong relationships.”

Healthcare organizations will need to consider what is important to patients to redesign their care offerings, the report authors suggested. This means exploring convenient care options.

Fifty-one percent of patients said convenience and accessibility were top factors when making healthcare decisions, even more so than hospital brand reputation and care quality. This preference may explain the growing popularity of non-traditional access points such as retail clinics and telehealth.

READ MORE: How Patient Experience in Billing Offices Impacts Patient Payments

In addition to integrating these types of convenient care models into system design, health system leaders may focus on the personal elements of care and breaking down barriers that make healthcare difficult to access.

“We have to realize that our consumers have a lot of choices. That means an episodic take on care experiences doesn’t work anymore,” said Preston Gee, vice president of strategic marketing at Texas-headquartered CHRISTUS Health, who contributed to the NRC report. “We have to adopt more continuous relationship-building. If we don’t, patients will just go someplace else.”

Additionally, organizations will need to look to strategies that allow providers to spend their time with patients on clinical duties as opposed to documentation and other administrative tasks, said Joe Ness, chief operating officer at OHSU Healthcare, who also contributed to the report.

“If hospitals want to improve patient relationships and keep patients within their facilities, they will need to build sustainable models to support frontline staff and free up their time,” Ness explained. “Because healthcare’s a people business. There’s no substitute for that.”

In addition to convenience, health system leaders will need to address the issue of cost, the report suggested. Patients continue to defer care because of healthcare costs, a trend which may contribute to the decline in hospital visits.

READ MORE: Patient Experience, Technology Top the List of CIO Priorities

In both 2017 and 2018, NRC Health found that nearly one-quarter of patients delayed care because of high healthcare costs.

Healthcare is an increasingly complex industry, the report authors acknowledged. While leaders may recognize some forces shaping healthcare – changing payment models, consumerism – the industry is still riddled with uncertainty.

“There’s no doubt that consumerism poses considerable challenges for healthcare leaders,” Jackson explained. “Consumer ambiguity, shifting sentiments, emergent competitive threats — these have all fundamentally changed the landscape facing health systems today.”

To respond to that doubt, health systems must be prepared for any trend’s emergence, the report stated.

“The message is clear. Satisfaction with the care encounter is not enough,” the report authors wrote. “The healthcare consumer has evolved, and they expect health systems to evolve along with them. Patients nowadays don’t just want excellent care. They want care that conforms to their elevated expectations—care delivered with more ease, convenience, and choice.”

In the face of these changes, health systems will need to be agile and prepared to confront a number of challenges, the report authors stated. While it is difficult to predict the issues organizations will face, they can prepare for that by being open new influences.

“One certainty, though, is that the strategies of yesterday are not sustainable. If they’re to thrive in a consumerist future, organizations will need to hear what consumers are telling them,” the report authors concluded. “They’ll need to face their patients’ demands without flinching. And they’ll need to pursue bold experimentation, backed by robust data and true human understanding, to uncover the solutions to serve tomorrow’s patients.”

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