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The Increasing Importance of Patient Experience for Medical Practices

February 8, 2019

Patient experience—“the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care”1—is playing an increasingly significant role in the business success of medical practices. The impact is felt throughout the practice: online physician ratings, reimbursement levels, patient acquisition, and patient retention. In light of this, practices should consider ways to enhance the overall experience that patients have with their practices.

Patients Are Healthcare Consumers with Choices

Today’s patients have become healthcare consumers, better educated with greater access to information to guide them than ever before. They’re acting in many ways more like modern retail consumers than the passive recipients of medical care of years past.2 Because healthcare consumers are also retail consumers in other areas of their lives, they expect great customer service from their medical provider just as they do with the retailers they visit—and they realize they have choices.

As retail consumers, your patients interact with salespeople, cashiers, and other store employees where they shop. They also interact in similar ways with you and your staff. If you don’t make a good impression or meet their perceived needs, they often share their bad experiences with friends and family, on social networks, and in online physician reviews just as they would share bad retail experiences.

Consider this:

Beyond the word-of-mouth and online damage, a bad patient experience can have on your practice’s reputation, patients can also—and many times do—switch providers to seek a better patient experience, even at the expense of convenience or when limited by restrictions placed on them by an insurance network. In one study, 48% of patients said they would be willing to move out of their network for a doctor with favorable online physician reviews.3 Patients trust that most physicians will provide quality medical care. For the modern healthcare consumer, it’s often the overall experience that determines their choices.

Shifting Reimbursement Models Encourage a Focus on the Patient Experience

Another way the patient experience affects the business of a healthcare practice is that reimbursement models continue to shift from a fee-for-service model to a value-based system that incorporates measures of patient satisfaction. Under the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) track of the Quality Payment Program (QPP), CMS will include patient satisfaction measures to adjust Medicare payments either up or down, and already does so with the Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) program for hospitals using HCAHPS surveys.

While it’s unclear whether online physician reviews on sites like Zocdoc and Healthgrades (as opposed to the official CMS patient satisfaction survey vehicles) will one day affect physician reimbursement, recent developments suggest that it’s possible. For example, United Healthcare posts Healthgrades’ patient satisfaction data and reviews on its online physician directory, which policyholders can reference when choosing a physician. If health insurers follow the same trajectory as retail commerce, reviews and ratings could one day play a more significant role in a practice’s financial bottom-line.4

A recent study showed that 72% percent of patients check online reviews as the first step they take when selecting a physician.3 Considered in this light, improving the patient experience—which, in turn, helps improve physician ratings—can have a great impact on your practice.

Can an Improved Patient Experience Improve Patient Outcomes?

Physician and staff communication is a critical factor in the patient experience and one of the most important factors in patient reviews of physicians.5 An essential aspect of this communication, empathy can also lead to better patient outcomes, greater patient satisfaction, lower malpractice risk, and less stress and physician burnout. As studies suggest, communication that helps patients better understand their physicians can have a therapeutic effect, reducing pain, increasing function, and improving blood pressure, while making patients “more likely to acknowledge health problems, understand treatment options, modify their behaviors, and comply with medication schedules.”6 Physician empathy can lead to other improved health outcomes as well:

  • Increased immune function
  • Shorter post-surgery hospital stays
  • Improved control of blood sugar
  • Decreased asthma attacks
  • Shortened duration of colds

Improving the Patient Experience

Making changes in your practice to create a great patient experience begins with thinking like a consumer. What are the things that create a bad customer experience when you shop or visit retailers? They’re likely the same things that will create a poor experience for patients in your practice. A great customer experience starts with things as simple as maintaining a well-organized office, improving scheduling, pleasant staff interactions, and communicating issues as they arise with patients, including following through on commitments like follow-up phone calls.5

The patient experience you provide at your practice should also be tailored to the patients you currently serve and those you are trying to attract. A strategy that appeals to one patient demographic may not appeal to others. Baby boomers, gen xers, and millennials, for example, have different preferences regarding communication methods and technology.2 For example, millennials (73%) and gen xers (70%) find text messaging for appointment reminders extremely or very appealing, while only 45% of baby boomers do.7 Tailoring your approach to the demographics of your patient population as you work to improve the patient experience is an essential starting point.

Practices that focus on providing an excellent experience for their increasingly sophisticated healthcare consumers can see positive results. When the patient has an overall good experience, it is more likely that they will focus on the positive experience with their physician, rather than on any minor inconveniences they might have faced during their visit. A patient focusing on the positive aspects of their experience is more likely to share those positive experiences in patient satisfaction surveys, online physician reviews, and with their families, friends, and social networks.

In a healthcare industry increasingly influenced by formal patient satisfaction surveys, online physician ratings, and shared experiences on social media, your practice’s health may depend on improving the patient experience.

References

1. The Beryl Institute. “Defining Patient Experience.” (accessed 2/7/2019)

2. Brett Chambers. “The Generational Differences in Healthcare Technology.” Physician’s Weekly, July 12, 2016 (accessed 2/7/2019)

3. Gaby Loria. “How Patients Use Online Reviews.” Software Advice. (accessed 2/7/2019)

4. Susanne Madden. “Online Reviews: Payers Are Paying Attention Too.” Physicians Practice, January 31, 2018. (accessed 2/7/2019)

5. Vanguard Communications. “Online Complaints? Blame Customer Service, Not Doctors’ Care.” (accessed 2/7/2019)

6. Karen Cook. “Improving Physicians’ Communication Skills.” Hospitals and Health Networks, May 28, 2015 (accessed 2/7/2019)

7. Solution Reach. “The Patient-Provider Relationship Study: The Ripple Effect Starts with Boomers.” 2017. (accessed 2/7/2019)

Additional Linked Sources

Kerri Wing, RN. “A Guide to Reporting on MACRA in 2018.” Physicians Practice, February 9, 2018 (accessed 2/7/2019)

NORCAL Group. “Encourage Positive Online Physician Ratings with These Best Practices.” (accessed 2/7/2019)

NORCAL Group. “Empathy Benefits Both Physicians and Patients: Case Studies and Best Practices.” (accessed 2/7/2019)

Micah Solomon. “8 Ways to Improve Patient Satisfaction, Patient Experience And (By The Way) HCAHPS Scores.” Forbes, January 11, 2015. (accessed 2/7/2019)

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Hospital Value-based Purchasing.” September 2017. (accessed 2/7/2019)

Filed under: Article, Practice Manager, Physician Ratings, Patient Experience

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