How to Improve the Customer Experience in Healthcare
We’re all customers. Whether you’ve purchased a new car, paid someone to install a pool in your yard — maybe a large fire pit for these cooler fall temperatures — or simply bought a new hammer at the local hardware store, you have partaken in the customer experience on a regular basis.
Each of us has certain expectations as a consumer. If we’re picking up a few groceries, we expect to be able to check out within a few minutes. When we sign up for internet service, we assume we’re going to regularly be able to get online.
The same is true for healthcare. Patients expect convenient, quality care at a reasonable cost — the primary tenets of healthcare consumerism.
Putting Healthcare Consumerism into Practice
When healthcare providers meet these expectations, the result is a higher level of patient satisfaction. Patients with better care experiences often have better health outcomes and are more likely to adhere to medical advice and treatment plans. For providers, this means increased patient retention rates, more satisfied staff and a solid reputation.
What constitutes a positive customer experience, though? For some, it might be a welcoming office environment — comfortable chairs and some sort of entertainment to consume while waiting. For others, a visit with the physician that doesn’t feel rushed is paramount.
Although the experience might differ from patient to patient, your approach to ensuring your patients have an optimal experience shouldn’t. Check out our five easy-to-implement recommendations for improving the customer experience in healthcare.
1. Make a Positive First Impression.
It’s hard to overcome a bad first impression, especially when you only see many of your patients a few times each year. As noted in a study published in Health Communication, “the first impression has a strong impact on positive and negative judgments on doctors’ communication approach and may facilitate or inhibit all further interactions.”
Employing friendly and competent staff increases the probability your patients receive a favorable first impression. Train these team members appropriately to ensure they have good patient-provider communication skills and accurately set patient expectations.
Also, keep in mind that the patient registration process typically provides a patient with his or her first impression of a physician practice and is essential for ensuring you’re able to offer high-quality care. It can set the tone for the entire patient journey.
2. Provide Patient-Centered Care.
Shouldn’t all healthcare be focused on the patient? Of course. The patient-centered care (PCC) approach, though, encourages individuals to be more active participants in their own care. As a collaboration between providers and patients, it strives to improve individual health outcomes while also boosting patient engagement and satisfaction.
PCC doesn’t only benefit patients. Providers enjoy perks such as lower overall costs, improved resource allocation and fewer hospitalizations and readmissions.
This one might sound too easy, but it can make a noticeable difference in how patients perceive you. Even listening to patients without interrupting them goes a long way in making the customer experience more positive.
There’s research that has identified multiple ways communication can lead to better health outcomes, including reducing medication errors and hospital readmissions. Some studies indicate strong positive relationships between a healthcare team member’s communication skills and a patient’s capacity to follow through with medical recommendations, self-manage a chronic medical condition and adopt preventive health behaviors. Additional advantages of effective communication in healthcare are:
- Improved quality of care
- Enhanced patient experience
- Reduced cost of care
- Boosted patient satisfaction scores
- Decreased stress and burnout for clinicians
- Fewer complaints and readmissions
- Improved staff teamwork and collaboration
4. Be Transparent About Price.
It’s not unusual for patients to get healthcare bills that amount to much more than expected. They receive medical care without knowing the exact price, even though they face high and varying out-of-pocket fees for their care. No wonder they’re frustrated!
According to the 2022 Patient Access Journey Report from our colleagues at Kyruus, 95 percent of consumers consider some kind of cost information, and 68 percent say they would be more likely to book medical appointments when they have visibility into the expected cost of care. Along with reducing the cost of healthcare, price transparency has the potential to provide real-time online access to estimated out-of-pocket (OOP) costs, enhance patient engagement and reduce market prices for various procedures. It also helps patients be more aware of their payment responsibility to their provider.
5. Prioritize Privacy and Security.
Online crime isn’t anything new, but the healthcare industry continues to bear the brunt of data breaches. In this second-most cyberattacked industry, they occur through a variety of incidents, including stolen devices, hacking, human error and negligence.
As a healthcare provider, it’s crucial that your organization is committed to data security and privacy. You can start by ensuring you’re up-to-date with all the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) Act, Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST) Service Organization Control (SOC), the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS). Train your staff on security measures regularly, and verify that any technology you utilize is HIPAA-compliant and has earned HITRUST Certification status.
Meeting and Exceeding Patient Expectations
The proliferation of digital health resources has enabled healthcare provider organizations of all sizes — from small medical groups to large hospitals and health systems — to better meet patients’ expectations. One of the more recent examples is telehealth, which assists in remotely delivering healthcare services. Its use skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic and is now employed by almost half of all United States physicians to treat patients. Telehealth enables patients to access care in the comfort and privacy of their own home and avoid a lengthy waiting time in the doctor’s office before their appointment.
Other popular digital health tools utilized to improve the customer experience are those that allow patients to complete pre-appointment tasks on their smartphone or other mobile devices. In the previously-mentioned Kyruus report, more than 90 percent of respondents express being extremely or very interested in using digital self-service for pre-appointment tasks.
Used together, these digital health tools offer a reliable way for providers to offer a positive first impression, securely communicate effectively and efficiently, personalize care and give patients more accurate insight into what they owe. The result is more satisfied patients — and providers — and a more financially and operationally sustainable practice.
Find out how the HIPAA-compliant and HITRUST-certified Epion patient engagement platform helps deliver a more consistent, tailored and delightful patient experience across all touchpoints.