5 Steps to Improved Patient Experience

Mark CrockettBy Mark Crockett, M.D., CEO, Verge Health

As soon as healthcare began to focus on patient experience, the law of unintended consequences kicked in. While well received as a tool to improve care, it accidentally gave rise to a consumer culture around patient treatment. It’s time to take a fresh look at patient experience.

What is Patient Experience?

The Beryl Group defines patient experience as “the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influences patient perceptions across the continuum of care.” That’s an ambitious definition, but it’s not impossible. Patients absolutely deserve safe, quality care in a caring and supportive environment. So how do healthcare organizations create a positive patient experience? There are several steps involved.

1. Form a Therapeutic Alliance

Patient experience begins with developing provider/patient and provider/organization relationships that encourage collaboration.

A recent study shows that if a patient experience is positive, the patient feels empowered to enter into a therapeutic “alliance” with the provider. Patients are motivated to follow treatment plans and are less likely to withhold information if they don’t feel intimidated—or worse, ignored—by their provider. This supports swifter diagnoses and improved clinical decision-making, and leads to fewer unnecessary referrals or diagnostic tests.

What’s more, many hospital CFOs already know a positive patient experience is a clinical indicator that ties to financial outcomes. A study profiled in JAMA last year indicated a direct association between a hospital’s Star Rating and patient outcomes.

2. Understand Patient Expectations

Creating a positive patient experience, and better clinical outcomes, begins with an understanding of what patients expect from providers. The primary expectation of any patient is clear: keep me safe. To the unfamiliar, hospitals are scary places. Patients know of medical errors and medication mix-ups or of being treated by an unqualified caregiver. Hospitals must communicate clearly that patients are in a safe place where they can trust their caregivers.

If patients believe they are in a safe, trusted environment, their next expectation is, of course, to get better. To be healed. This requires consistent excellence across a wide variety of performance areas. Finally, patients expect to be treated with courtesy and respect.

3. Let HIT Do Some of the Heavy Lifting

Most patients assume all clinicians are highly qualified and fully credentialed. A robust credentialing platform helps providers deliver on that assumption. Another technology to influence patient experience is the ease of electronically submitting information to a Patient Safety Organization. Participating in a PSO not only enables federal protection under the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act (PSQIA) helps the organization to share and learn from peers as it relates to patient safety initiatives.

4. Keep the Communication Channels Open

Effective communication improves patient and physician satisfaction. It boosts patient compliance and reduces medical errors and malpractice claims. The benefits of a culture that encourages open, honest, and direct communication among patients, providers, and staff go directly to the heart of patient experience.

5. Digital Rounding to Boost Employee Engagement, Build Physician Alignment

There is a tremendous benefit to incorporating digital rounding into a health system’s employee engagement strategy. For example, although nurses and physicians generate an equal number of complaints, nurses are three times more likely to have positive reports as compared to MDs. However, physician complaints have higher severity and fewer resolutions.

Patient feedback gathered through a rounding process identifies critical areas including peer review events, compliance events (particularly in infection control), and patient and employee safety issues. In fact, for one healthcare system, more than 50 percent of all peer review cases at its 30 facilities actually began in patient relations. Validation audits from compliance organizations (specifically CMS) often stem from a patient complaint.

Patient experience is clinical. It matters to value-based care and has direct impact on an institution’s long-term financial survival. Organizations that sideline patient experience, or simply meet the minimum standards required, do so at their peril.

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