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Better Practice Operations Vital to Improve Patient Satisfaction

Efficient scheduling and accessible patient portal tools are key parts of practice operations that will drive patient satisfaction.

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Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Clinician office wait times are down by five minutes from last year, highlighting a focus on better practice operations, patient flow, and patient satisfaction, according to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).

The annual MGMA DataDive Practice Operations Survey showed that average clinician office wait times are about 20 minutes, measured from the patient arriving at the check-in desk to the patient walking into the exam room. Hospital-owned physician practices see even shorter wait times at an average of 17 minutes.

The survey, which used data from 1,200 healthcare organizations, also provided insights into the appointment scheduling process. Patients have an easier time accessing physician-owned practices than hospital-owned practices.

Physician-owned practices are able to see patients within three days of patients seeking an appointment. This is two days shorter than the appointment wait period in hospital-owned practices where patients wait five days to see the doctor.

There were also disparities in patient portal usage in hospital- and physician-owned practices. Thirty percent of patients in hospital-owned practices have adopted the patient portal, whereas 10 to 15 percent of patients in physician-owned practices have adopted the technology. MGMA did not specify the reason for the range of patients adopting the patient portal in physician-owned practices.

Patients in hospital-owned practices also use the patient portal at higher rates, reporting 50 percent higher utilization than patients in physician-owned practices.

Primary care clinics see the highest level of patient portal uptake of all specialties, with 35 percent of all primary care patients using the technology.

Patients reported digital access to test results as the most appealing patient portal feature, coming in with 29 percent of patients favoring this function. Twenty-eight percent of patients also reported liking digital bill payments, patient-provider communication and secure messaging tools, downloading their own digital medical records, and online appointment scheduling.

Patient portals that include those features are helping to create a better patient experience and drive satisfaction. Although patient portals are a regulatory requirement and nearly all practices offer portals to patients, it is time to take it a step further. Healthcare organizations should employ strategies to activate patients in portal use to create more meaningful patient engagement.

Patient satisfaction also emerged as a high priority for respondents. Healthcare organizations are engaging in patient satisfaction measures, with 74 percent of respondents stating they conduct regular patient satisfaction surveys upon discharge. Only three percent of organizations said they never conduct patient satisfaction surveys.

Practice operations such as appointment scheduling, patient engagement, and patient satisfaction measures are key indicators of hospital quality, according to MGMA President and CEO Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, MMM, FAAP, CMPE. Getting a gauge on how healthcare organizations are running their practices helps industry experts understand the current direction and quality of patient care.

“Medical practices face a variety of challenges today, and among the most addressable are practice operations which tend to separate top performing practices from the rest,” Fischer-Wright said in a public statement. “With this survey, we aim to glean insights that will enable practices to improve efficiencies and better serve their patients by making processes as smooth as possible.”

Healthcare institutions are making patient engagement their top priority, other surveys have also found.

In a March 2017 survey, Premier Inc. determined that 45 percent of organizations plan to ramp up their patient engagement efforts throughout this year.

Clinicians and practice leaders are responding to the emerging patient-as-consumer role that has been driven by growing out-of-pocket costs. Practices are focusing on efficient practice and care management strategies and offering cost-cutting care options, such as retail clinics and telehealth tools, with 56 percent of hospitals considering inexpensive care avenues.

“With high-deductible health plans and health savings accounts, consumers will increasingly choose economical, accessible healthcare options,” the Premier report explained. “As such, providers are focusing on increasing use of health system-affiliated ambulatory clinics and stand-alone primary care providers, engagement strategies like online apps and telemedicine and care management teams.”

Going forward, healthcare organizations should assess their organizational management to better drive their patient experience efforts. By making small improvements in multiple areas, hospitals may increase their ability to deliver a quality and satisfactory encounter to patients.

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