While healthcare has shifted towards improving the patient experience in many ways, some of the ideas getting the most attention come from very large organizations making substantial investments.
What are smaller organizations like specialty practices supposed to do?
The good news is that patient experience can be improved even without costly changes.
How Physicians Are Shifting Patient Experiences
Let’s take a look at how some physicians are improving their interactions and how their practices are set up to support them.
In a conversation with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Craig Greene of Baton Rouge, he told us about the way that he positions himself during appointments. Dr. Greene ensures that his patient sits between him and the door. The exam table where patients sit is situated at a higher elevation than Dr. Greene’s rolling chair so that he is not looking downward at the patient but upward. It’s an intentional decision on his part to help the patient feel more empowered in the encounter.
That’s it. The cost is in finding the right chair, which may already be in the practice.
This next example doesn’t even require a change in furniture.
How to Structure the Stages of the Patient Experience
Dr. Justin Smith, a pediatrician in Fort Worth, had the opportunity to design his practice from the ground up, including the physical space and the ways that the practice would interact with patients and families.
He breaks the patient experience down into three stages:
- The Pre-Encounter Stage
- The Encounter Stage
- The Post-Encounter Stage
Each of these stages requires its own type of communication. For example, Dr. Smith trained his team in the Encounter Stage to interact with kids and their parents in a highly intentional manner. He says, “You know, it’s not uncommon for the patient to hear from every staff member, “I’m sorry that they’re sick today,” or, “I hope they feel better soon.”
Notice in the second example that the patient experience is not relegated only to the doctor. The staff participates in changing a doctor’s visit from a potentially scary experience to a much warmer experience of real human interaction and empathy.
The entire staff is jumping in to demonstrate empathy, and patients notice. Dr. Smith works for Cook Children’s Healthcare System, which is a large healthcare organization, but his ideas can work in smaller practice settings, too.
Keep Patients Informed of Their Benefits
Beyond the immediate appointment, there are plenty of opportunities to improve how an organization communicates with patients.
The process of one-to-one communication with patients is vital. Some of the most important conversations include helping people understand their insurance benefits and what kind of cost patients may incur.
In speaking with practice managers, we hear about how difficult this process is and how frustrating it can be to resolve. Still, it’s critical to be able to have those conversations on the front end of an appointment or procedure instead of surprising someone with it later on.
Practice Manager Terry Leidner and her team at Ridgewood Orthopedic Group do what they can do to help patients navigate the insurance experience when a surgical procedure is required. Terry says that bringing insurance up can create frustration in patients, as they feel like the practice is just worried about the money and not the patient’s needs. She and her team explain how they are seeking to help the patient get ahead of any issues.
Sometimes, the way Terry can help most is to empower patients to go back to the insurance company to make their own case. Empowering patients can even lead to patients making informed decisions as to whether or not they will choose to go out-of-network entirely to pay for procedures.
Divert Calls vs. On-Hold
Call management solutions can get costly, but there are a variety of solutions with varying amounts of features and costs to consider.
The main issue that we’re trying to solve is how long patients are waiting before they get to speak with someone at the practice. That patient may just be on hold for a lengthy amount of time, or the office may not be able to answer enough calls at a time.
While patients may not be able to get in touch with a physician immediately, many families’ concerns could be put to rest by a conversation with someone on staff. This obviously won’t solve every phone call, but the ability to get through is critical.
In reviewing call information with one large practice, we were easily able to determine when call volume spiked, when call wait times increased, and when more calls were going unanswered—despite the best efforts of the team. This information allowed the practice to start having better internal discussions about how to improve their processes in a number of ways, including determining when it was advantageous to have more people available to answer the phones.
At a time when practices must be more aware of the review scores, factors like on-hold time can have a big impact on the overall perception of the practice.
Pair Offline Efforts with Online
In our next article, we’ll take a closer look at what we can do to further amplify offline efforts by matching them up with online communication avenues like your website, your social media, and even your review sites.
The big takeaway for part one of this two-part series is that improving the patient experience does not have to be prohibitively expensive. There are changes you can make today with the resources you already have.
About the Author
Michael Roberts spends a great deal of time with the healthcare industry both professionally and personally, which gives him the perspective of what stakeholders on either side of the care equation need. Michael is the marketing director for P3 Inboundand the co-host of the Paradigm Shift of Healthcare podcast, an interview show that discusses how healthcare’s changes impact stakeholders in health systems, insurance companies, technology companies, and the patient population.