We’ve all been there. You’re trying in the most professional way to assist a patient who (no matter what you say or do) is irritated, flustered, and exasperated at every turn of their care journey. Despite your best efforts, the patient expresses frustration, complains, and threatens to take their business elsewhere. Yes, a slam dunk candidate for patient of the year honors!
While this example may be a bit over the top (or not), it illustrates the idea that patients begin the appointment experience with certain expectations, realistic or not. They envision the patient journey playing out in a certain way, and when it doesn’t, they’re disappointed, upset, and at times, unpleasant.
The golden nugget here is that your practice is aware of these common patient expectations. You likely already have specific communication processes, tools, and messaging in place to help manage those expectations. This helps ensure both you and your patient are on the same page and vastly increases the likelihood that the patient will have a more positive and satisfying experience. Better yet, you’ll be more likely to retain a greater percentage of your patient pool by earning the loyalty of more and more “happy” patients.
What are some common patient expectations?
It probably feels like this has been a moving target in recent years, with a shift toward a more patient-centric care model, the infusion of consumerism in healthcare, and changing technological and cultural trends. For example, a 2022 survey found that nearly 45% of patients want more involvement than they currently have in their healthcare decisions.
No question, it has put more pressure on practices to adapt and deliver wherever possible to set and manage those expectations. Some of these include:
- More and better technology
- Fast, modern communication
- Reasonable wait times
- Appointment availability
- Priority on patient convenience
- Greater availability of practice information and patient education
- Simple access to records and lab results
Why is it important to meet those patient expectations?
In a more competitive care environment, patients have more choices about where they get their dental, vision, and medical care. More than ever, patients are willing to go elsewhere to get the kind of access, service, amenities, and technologies they expect. A 2021 HIMSS survey found one-third of all ages of patients —and 64% of those under 50 — would switch practices to get more modern communications like appointment reminders and two-way texting. You’ve got to stay one step ahead of the competition in meeting those expectations in order to expand your business.
The degree to which you’re able to meet those expectations directly impacts your retention rates as well as your ability to attract new patients that will help you grow your practice. You can build patient relationships and loyalty by being responsive to your patients’ needs and expectations about the care experience they’ll receive at your practice.
What are the keys to setting patient expectations?
There are several critical areas that you’ll want to be sure you cover as you begin to align patient expectations with what your practice offers. These essentials are at the core of providing a quality care experience to every patient.
1. Communication (early and often):
When it comes to something as important as your patients’ healthcare, too much communication is almost never a bad thing. Reaching out often to your patients at each progressive stage of their experience to inform, explain, and direct them to the next step is crucial. This enables you to carefully guide them through the patient journey, calming and reassuring patients and best of all, avoiding surprises and misunderstandings.
Ensure you match your communications to each patient’s preferences for maximum effectiveness (text, email, or voice). Automated tools enable your staff to personalize, customize and send each patient message while significantly reducing the manual workload of your staff. For many, phone calls and emails are also old hat. Most patients today prefer text communication and the ability to send text messages to your practice.
2. Technology and Self-Service Tools:
Today’s patients expect you to offer the latest consumer technologies such as online self-service tools similar to what they use in the retail and business worlds. They want to be able to quickly and conveniently access features to expedite their experience. For example, can they easily book an appointment online in a matter of seconds? Can they fill out intake forms from a secure link that you send them to speed up check in and minimize wait times? Can they access lab results without fuss on your patient portal? Do you offer text to pay or a simple way to make secure payments online? Are there options for telehealth visits for chronic care management visits or other consultations?
3. Patient Information & Education:
Patients expect you to have a modern, feature-filled practice website where they can get information about your practice and providers. Do you have a patient FAQ section? The last thing they want to do is have to call your office to get information that should be readily available on your website or through targeted patient messaging. The more informed your patients are the smoother their care journey will be.
What about patient education? Patients want their practices to keep them up to date on relevant health issues, chronic condition management topics, important preventive screenings and exams, and pertinent medical alerts. Do you send out regular e-newsletters to keep your patients up to speed on topics that they may want to keep top of mind? You can also include details about product or treatment specials you’re offering and include secure links to schedule an appointment online or refer a friend in the newsletters.
You can also leverage a batch messaging tool to send text messages to specific groups of patients about seasonal vaccination clinics and to recall patients for specific types of preventive and chronic care management appointments.
How can I create communication touch points across my patients’ care journey?
Remember, it’s vital to set and manage expectations by taking every opportunity to have meaningful interaction with patients at every step in their experience. In essence, you want to create an end-to-end ongoing conversation with patients so they’re never confused about what’s next, what they can expect, and what they need to do.
Patient Does Not Yet Have an Appointment Scheduled
- Use an automated recall tool to send appointment text notifications to patients based on various criteria such as their age, diagnosis, last appointment, etc. Remind them that reducing gaps in care can help them avoid and minimize diseases and poorer health outcomes.
- Use a patient education tool to automatically send regular newsletters targeted to patients about preventive screenings and common chronic condition management. Include a link to conveniently book a recall appointment online.
- Use a batch messaging tool and assign various patient criteria to send targeted text messages to patients about vaccination availability, to schedule a 6-month teeth hygiene visit, or to book their annual eye exam.
- Offer online scheduling on your website and links on your business listings so that prospective patients searching for a local practice can easily book an appointment without having to call.
Patient Has Booked an Appointment
- Automatically send personalized text/email/voice appointment reminders at a cadence of three weeks, three days, and three hours using a digital reminder tool for patients to confirm their visit or reschedule. Patients will be much less likely to forget their appointment and you’ll be able to minimize costly no-shows and late cancellations. With real-time, two-way texting, patients can reply to your reminders, reschedule, or ask questions about their appointment.
- Don’t forget to also send important pre-visit instructions prior to the appointment. Automatically send messages pertinent to the patient’s appointment such as fasting before the appointment, complete needed lab work, office way-finding instructions, or instructions to conduct a telehealth visit. This messaging is key to ensuring they arrive prepared and on time.
- Use a digital intake tool to automatically send a secure link to patients to fill out intake forms electronically from the comfort of their home. Your patients will appreciate a more streamlined check-in process and shorter wait times from dispensing with intake ahead of time. Your staff will be freed up from tedious data entry while you’ll reduce paper costs and have fewer claim denials from reentry errors.
Patient Completes Their Appointment
- Since many patients can’t remember provider instructions given during the appointment, use your automatic messaging tool to send post-appointment care instructions to boost patient adherence. Also convey any specialist referral contact information or invite the patient to schedule an appointment for follow-up care.
- Use your review management tool to automatically send personalized invitations to patients 24 to 48 hours after their appointment asking them to leave you a review and star rating on your preferred review site. The quantity and quality of reviews you get will help your practice show up higher in search results when prospective patients search for a new doctor or dentist. These reviews are vital to helping you continually grow your patient pool.
- Ensure your patients have a satisfactory payment experience by making it easy for them. Use a text to pay tool to automatically send patients secure messages and links with their balances so they can easily submit a payment online. Eliminate confusing paper billing statements and allow your patient to have an easy and convenient way to pay their care bills.
You’ve got a lot to offer when it comes to setting, managing, and exceeding your patients’ expectations. Resolve to make your patient engagement truly a win-win by getting on the same wavelength with your patients. You can create better experiences that result in “happier patients” by adopting the communications, technology, and tools that can help deliver a more effortless and satisfying end-to-end care journey. You’ll be able to boost your retention and acquisition rates while increasing appointment volume, gain operational efficiencies, and practice revenue.