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Improving the Patient Experience for Better Outcomes

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July 20, 2022
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The healthcare industry is complicated. With all of the strains that are on the healthcare system, it’s easy to understand why certain portions aren’t a focus. However, the patient care experience is incredibly important for a number of reasons. Not only are many missing out on transparency and receiving the best care for the value, but they’re also walking into a clinic or hospital with no working knowledge if the decisions being made are the best option.

Strain isn’t placed on just the healthcare system, but also on the patients who are existing within it. Those undergoing stress, even in smaller amounts, take a longer amount of time to heal from wounds and illness. [1]Christian, L.M., Graham J.E, Padgett D.A., Glaser R., Kiecolt-Glaser J.K., (2006). Stress and Wound Healing. Neuroimmunomodulation 13, 337-346. https://doi.org/10.1159/000104862 This may mean that if their experience as a patient is poor, their healing time may be significantly longer, or their overall outcome may be poor. By improving the patient experience, we can also improve the outcome of their care.

Why Is Improving Patient Care Important?

The patient experience is the entirety of their experiences throughout treatment. Whether it’s the interaction with the healthcare professional who helps them with their paperwork, or the nurse who is taking their history or vitals, each step in the process is important. In fact, more Americans are becoming involved in the choices surrounding their patient care. How patients may be affected by a medical choice, or what their potential quality of life may be is becoming increasingly important to those patients.

Patient-centered care is one of the ways to better the healthcare industry. Not only do patients deserve to receive quality treatment and be more than just a case or a file, but when the care is patient-centered, their health outcomes have shown to be better when they receive better care. [2]Doyle, C., Lennox, L., & Bell, D. (2013). A systematic review of evidence on the links between patient experience and clinical safety and effectiveness. BMJ open, 3 (1), e001570. … Continue reading The trend away from patient-centered care causes more harm than good, while improving the patient experience is more apt to help than harm the patient.

Why Is It Important to Understand Patient Experience?

Understand Patient Experience

While there may be no standard definition when it comes to the patient experience, having an understanding of the patient experience as a whole may be more important than defining it. Because healthcare is performed by humans assessing the health needs of other humans, it’s apparent that the human experience, as well as the patient experience, is at the core of healthcare in general. This isn’t just a healthcare issue, it’s a human issue.

If the patient experience is difficult to define, then that means it’s also difficult to understand. And if these two things are true, that means it would also be impossible to supply, and equally as impossible to assess. Therefore, a clearer understanding of what the patient experience is will enable providers to offer a higher quality patient experience, which will, in turn, lead to improving patient outcomes. [3]Oben P. (2020). Understanding the Patient Experience: A Conceptual Framework. Journal of patient experience, 7 (6), 906–910. https://doi.org/10.1177/2374373520951672

When patient care becomes more patient-centered, it’s easier for those providing that care to empathize with the patient. When a patient is having their blood pressure measured, they’re not focusing on if all the tools are working properly but are instead thinking about how it may be a stressful experience, or how the cuff itself is painful. When a nurse can understand this side of the patient experience, they may be able to improve the way they handle measuring blood pressure and reassure the patient or try to make the process more comfortable. Empathy and understanding lead to a better experience.

Being able to make a connection with the patient can lead to a better patient experience. When healthcare professionals can take the time to get to know the patient and understand what their concerns may be, that will likely lead to care that’s more individualized. Instead of being task-oriented and concerned with checking boxes, being patient-oriented will lead to an overall better patient experience, and retention. Better retention means a better bottom line.

What Is a Positive Patient Experience?

Defining what a patient experience is could help greatly in understanding what a positive experience might be or look like. However, there are 4 values that are integral to a positive patient experience:

Human Value

Telehealth improves patient experience

 

The human value can be defined through patient desires. One of the things that patients want is to be listened to — that their concerns are heard and that their questions are being answered. Patients also want to be spoken to or communicated with in a way that’s easy to understand. Patients also want, and deserve, to be treated with respect, and they want to know that they’re more than an illness or condition. Telehealth has opened more doors to improving patient experience.

Safety/Quality Value

The safety/quality value in patient care relates to a few different ideals. First, patients want to know that their health is improving from the care that they receive and that the care is being performed safely. These two things are the basic definitions of the safety/quality value. Essentially, safe care should be provided with a focus on the quality of that care.

Financial Value

Providing excellent care and a positive patient experience correlates to increases in revenue. Patients are much like customers in that happy customers will remain loyal, and they will recommend services they’re happy with.

Reputational Value

Branding in healthcare, as with all things, is important. So important, in fact, that it directly relates to reputation. Those doctors, clinics, or providers with a better reputation are perceived to provide better overall patient care.

How Do You Make a Patient Experience Better?

While pinpointing exactly what the patient experience is seems to be difficult, perhaps understanding what a positive patient experience is doesn’t have to be. Thinking of patients as consumers can humanize the approach to a patient experience. A few principles that are common through other kinds of customer service may also apply to the healthcare industry:

Help the Patient Understand a Process

Certain processes in the healthcare industry are either misunderstood or totally unknown. If you’re entering a doctor’s office, chances are you have an idea of what to expect. Certain procedures like an MRI or different kinds of surgery, however, may not come with the same level of understanding. Helping a patient know what to expect can make them more comfortable with what’s to come and improve their experience.

Communication Is Key

Communication Is Key

Keeping an open line of communication during different stages of patient care can also improve the patient experience. If you fail to communicate with them during an ultrasound, they may be wondering if there’s an issue, or if they’re concerned about the noise or maybe unexpected pain of another procedure, keeping the lines of communication going will help them through the situation and may even lead to improving patient outcomes. [4]Lange, E. (2012) A Better Patient Experience Through Better Communication. Journal of Radiology Nursing, 31(4). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jradnu.2012.08.001.

Build Trust

By incorporating the two above principles into patient care, a certain level of trust can be built. This is helpful in that the more trust the patient has, the more smoothly different stages of care can go. Having more empathy, being present, and having a connection with patients can improve feelings of trust. These feelings of trust will not only help patients feel more comfortable about advice or any of the stages of care they’re in, but it will also improve their overall experience quality.

Make It Easier

No one enjoys filling out forms, but if it could be completed online before an appointment, it might be preferable for a patient. Any way that their experience can be streamlined and made easier for them can be an improvement.

Examples of Improving the Patient Experience

With more and more patients having access to information and expecting more out of their healthcare providers, there are some effective ways to improve the patient experience. While all of these may not work across the board, they are excellent starting points.

These examples include:

  • Decreasing waiting times. No one wants to wait 30 or more minutes to see a provider. In fact, those who spend a great deal of time waiting and have limited time with the provider report a lower satisfaction rate. [5]Anderson, R.T., Camacho, F.T. Balkrishnan, R.(2007) Willing to wait?: The influence of patient wait time on satisfaction with primary care. BMC Health Serv Res 7, 31. … Continue reading
  • Digital documents. Rather than forcing patients to fill out paperwork during their wait, make forms available digitally so they can be completed before their visit.
  • Friendly faces. Anyone the patient meets with should be friendly and as helpful as they can be.
  • Ask questions. While advice has been given, or a diagnosis delivered and the main portion of the office visit has been completed, patients want to know they’ve been heard. Asking if they have any concerns or any questions of their own can help them leave with a positive experience.
  • Imagine it’s you. Think about it from the patient’s perspective and consider what you might want to see, or how you’d like to be treated.

Speak with Those Who Can Help Improve Patient Experience

Change is inevitable, and as patients have more access to knowledge and information, the healthcare industry must adapt to those changes or risk collapsing. Patients are concerning themselves more with their care and their patient experience than ever before.

References

References
1Christian, L.M., Graham J.E, Padgett D.A., Glaser R., Kiecolt-Glaser J.K., (2006). Stress and Wound Healing. Neuroimmunomodulation 13, 337-346. https://doi.org/10.1159/000104862
2Doyle, C., Lennox, L., & Bell, D. (2013). A systematic review of evidence on the links between patient experience and clinical safety and effectiveness. BMJ open, 3 (1), e001570. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001570
3Oben P. (2020). Understanding the Patient Experience: A Conceptual Framework. Journal of patient experience, 7 (6), 906–910. https://doi.org/10.1177/2374373520951672
4Lange, E. (2012) A Better Patient Experience Through Better Communication. Journal of Radiology Nursing, 31(4). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jradnu.2012.08.001.
5Anderson, R.T., Camacho, F.T. Balkrishnan, R.(2007) Willing to wait?: The influence of patient wait time on satisfaction with primary care. BMC Health Serv Res 7, 31. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6963-7-31
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