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Patient Experience: What It Is & Why It Matters

Posted on Dec 08, 2021 by Mike Rigert

    Regrettably,  the term “patient experience” is often loosely thrown around the healthcare industry to describe a broad spectrum of attributes. It can seemingly include anything from patients’ feelings and expectations about a care visit to the specifics of how practices like yours interact with healthcare consumers. 

    In this article, we’ll nail down a more actionable definition of patient experience, show why it’s vital to your practice’s success, and look at how you can measure and expand upon it.

    How is Patient Experience Defined?

    For starters, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, defines patient experience as “the range of interactions that patients have with the health care system, including care from health plans.” At its core, the concept consists of several aspects of healthcare delivery highly valued by your patients, such as “getting timely appointments, easy access to information, and good communication with health care providers,” according to AHRQ.

    The Beryl Institute takes it a step further and defines the concept as “the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care.”

    What Are the Four Factors of the Patient Experience?

     Let’s further unpack The Beryl Institute’s definition into four key elements— interactions, culture, perceptions, and continuum of care.

    • Interactions: This includes each coordinated touchpoint of people, processes, policies, communications, actions, and environment. Every way in which a practice contacts or influences a patient contributes to their healthcare journey.
    • Culture: The vision, values, people (at multiple levels), and community can all have a profound impact on a patient’s care experience.
    • Perceptions: This includes everything recognized, understood, and remembered by patients and support people. Perceptions vary based on individual experiences such as beliefs, values, and cultural background. 
    • Continuum of care: The appointment is much more than the actual visit. It’s every interaction with a practice or provider before, during, and after delivery of care.

    In short, the degree to which you can influence, add to, and improve these elements will result in a more optimal experience for your patients.

    Why Is Patient Experience Important?

     Now that we’ve established a baseline definition, it’s crucial to establish why patient experience matters. There’s two primary motivations—patient outcomes and practice incomes.

    From a clinical perspective, data from numerous studies has shown that from preventive care to disease management, an exceptional experience is a potent elixir for restoring health. For example, studies of hospitalized heart attack victims found that more positive reports about their care experiences equated with better health outcomes one year after discharge.

    At the same time, there’s a persuasive business case that bolstering the patient experience correlates with reduced costs and higher revenue. With consumerism flooding the healthcare space, patient loyalty increasingly depends on the type of care experience delivered. For example, it costs a practice five times more to attract a new patient than it does to retain an existing one. A quality encounter is also associated with lower medical malpractice risk and greater employee satisfaction, which reduces turnover. 

    In terms of revenue, one study showed that hospitals and health systems with higher reported experience scores also see higher profitability. Hospitals that rated “excellent” on Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) surveys saw a net margin of 4.7 percent on average compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with low ratings. And since you’re reimbursed for value-based Medicaid care based on the results of standardized experience surveys, the higher your scores the greater the percentage of reimbursement.

    What’s the Difference Between Patient Experience and Patient Satisfaction?

     Although often used interchangeably, patient experience and “patient satisfaction” are two related but distinct ideas. The former determines if an action or activity in a healthcare setting should happen or actually happens. For example, did your patient receive appointment reminders prior to the visit, how many appointment reminders were received, and what communication method was used to send the reminders? In that sense, it’s a more objective indicator than patient satisfaction and is measured to improve the quality of care delivered.

    In contrast, patient satisfaction measures to what degree expectations were met during a visit. Survey questions might assess how likely your patient would be to recommend your practice to others or how friendly your staff was throughout the appointment workflow. Though it seems illogical, two patients might get identical care from a quality perspective yet score their satisfaction levels at opposite ends of the spectrum due to individual preferences and outlooks.

    That isn’t to say evaluating patient satisfaction is somehow less valuable to you than patient experience. It’s vitally important to gather data and feedback on both precisely because they measure different aspects of the healthcare journey. While patient experience surveys are excellent for gauging the quality aspects of care received, patient satisfaction surveys are designed to help you build loyalty, improve customer service, and increase the likelihood that your patients will give you referrals.

    How Is Patient Experience Measured With CAHPS Surveys?

    What’s one proven way to measure patient experience? It starts with the industry standard for evaluating patient experience—the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey. Yeah, it’s a mouthful. These research-proven surveys are free and allow you to get candid feedback from patients about critical aspects of their care experience. You can use the results of the CAHPS surveys to:

    • Compare and assess your performance against similar organizations and specialties
    • Pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in your patients’ journey
    • Measure the effectiveness of your programs at creating improvements

    CAHPS surveys are highly valued because of their capacity to give you clear, unbiased feedback about your efforts to improve the caliber of experience you deliver. And from a business standpoint, it’s always valuable to know how you stack up against the competition.

    Implementing a Patient Experience Program 

    The common denominator in every “good” patient experience is optimal communication between you and your patients. When interaction is clunky, lacking, or ineffective, fewer patients are able to make and keep their appointments, which leads to disruptions in your schedule and lost revenue. 

    To avoid these pitfalls, it’s essential to create a patient experience program to know where you’re at and how to get to where you want to be. Whether you’re a hospital, health system, or medical practice, it’s also important to consider how innovative technology solutions can more reliably connect you and your patients. To accomplish this, you’ll need to:

    • Survey patients to get feedback on your existing communication weaknesses
    • Identify key areas for improvement and set achievable goals
    • Consider patient engagement technology that can help you meet your objectives
    • Circle back to survey patients to gauge your progress

    Since you can’t begin to make progress until you know where you currently stand, survey your patients to identify areas where you’re doing well and also where you’re falling short. Sending surveys through a group text message to simultaneously reach large numbers of patients is an effective approach. You’re more likely to get higher completion rates this way since 91 percent of patients prefer the ease and convenience of digital surveys. 

    What kind of valuable takeaways will I get from the survey results?

    • Are you connecting with patients based on their preferences (text, email or voice)?
    • Can your patients receive and send text messages to you?
    • Are patient handoff communications between your departments smooth and seamless?
    • Are you effectively reaching patients at each critical point in the appointment workflow?

    From there, set reasonable and measurable goals to update policies, practices, and workflows that address weak points and gaps. For example, you could ask patients to indicate their communication type and frequency preferences on intake forms. Or you could ensure that appointment reminders are sent out at proven cadence.

    It’s also critical that you assess the abilities and shortcomings of your existing technology. Is your patient experience suffering because you rely on outdated, less effective means of communication like phone calls and patient portal messages? If so, consider upgrading your functionality to include text messaging for visit reminders and other key interactions since 97 percent of Americans use their smartphones to text. 

    You’ll also want to look at patient technology solutions like a patient relationship management platform that allow you to automate and customize communications. Automation allows you to quickly and efficiently reach large numbers of patients based on their timing and delivery preferences while reducing staff workload. Customization features enable you to personalize messages by indicators like patient or appointment type. For example, you can send an automated pre-visit instruction message to a patient to complete their lab work to ensure they arrive prepared for their appointment.

    Finally, send out surveys at regular intervals—typically at 10 months to one year—to measure the progress you’ve made on your patient experience programs goals and objectives. Your efforts will literally begin to pay off as you connect more consistently and effectively with patients.

    Conclusion

    Today, more than ever, it’s critical that you up the ante when it comes to giving patients the best end-to-end healthcare experience possible. You’ll not only lower your costs and increase revenue but you’ll also help patients achieve better outcomes. Start by building your own patient experience program that will enable you to set goals, measure progress, and achieve your practice’s business objectives.  

     

    To learn more about how patient surveys can help you deliver a better patient experience that improves retention and acquisition, download the checklist "10 Steps to the Perfect Patient Survey."

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    Mike Rigert

    Mike Rigert

    Mike Rigert is a writer and content marketing specialist with more than a decade of expertise in the B2B SaaS healthcare sector. He enjoys finding fresh and creative ways to tell the story about Solutionreach's innovative and life-changing patient relationship management platform. In his spare time, Mike enjoys diving into books, geeking out with scifi, expanding his knowledge of military history, and spending time with his wife and three kids.

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