Working as a management consultant in the healthcare space has given me a unique perspective on the patient experience.

Unlike my engagements in other industries, working in healthcare was the first time I thought about impacts on the “end user” at such a high frequency—I knew that every single decision, implementation, and process change ultimately impacted a patient. Plus, as a patient myself, I consistently placed my own and my family’s healthcare experiences at the forefront of my mind. Furthermore, during the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare systems are facing unprecedented challenges to provide care to COVID-19 patients while safely delivering standard care to other patients. The need for a renewed focus on the importance of emphasizing the patient experience has been more evident now than ever before.

The healthcare patient experience consists of the interactions that patients have with their care providers, including care received from doctors, nurses, and staff in clinics and hospitals. As healthcare organizations are working to create the best possible patient experiences, and determine where to invest to best support their clinical staff, it’s important that they establish a strong patient experience strategy.

Given that many healthcare systems are transitioning from volume to value-based care, there is a need to deliver quality, proactive, and preventative care. The volume-based care model, also known as fee-for-service, encourages a high volume of service visits. Physicians are focused on treating symptoms instead of preventing illness. On the other hand, value-based care puts the patients first. Providers are incented for delivering personalized and coordinated care.

Since success in value-based care is defined as offering the highest quality of care at the lowest cost, there must be an emphasis on the patient experience to gauge success. Here are some ways healthcare systems can increase their focus on the patient experience.

Listen to the voice of the customer

Healthcare systems should begin by understanding the experiences at every touchpoint across the system from the patients’ point of view. An initial assessment of the system’s current state can be made by collecting patient feedback from surveys. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has implemented the HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) – the first national, publicly reported patient satisfaction survey. In addition, healthcare systems can administer internal surveys via other methods, such as e-mail or text, which allow for real-time responses. As seen during the pandemic, such real-time responses are preferred, as changes are more frequent and unpredictable. Findings from these assessments should be shared across the organization, from physicians to administrative staff, to ensure visibility and transparency on the Voice of the Customer (VoC).

Since success in value-based care is defined as offering the highest quality of care at the lowest cost, there must be an emphasis on the patient experience to gauge success.

Listen to the voice of the Employee

The employee experience directly correlates with the patient experience. A healthcare organization that enhances its employees’ experiences creates engaged employees. Employee engagement is the degree to which employees feel passionate about their role and are loyal to the organization. Employee engagement not only impacts productivity and retention, but also serves as a key link to the patient experience. A few elements that drive employee engagement include a positive work environment, open communication, investment in employees’ development, and recognition and rewards for performance. Highly engaged employees focus better on their patients, resulting in improvements in the patient experience. By conducting surveys, healthcare systems can gain knowledge of their employees’ sentiments and behaviors—and create a more holistic voice of the employee.

Additional Actions to Consider

Understanding what patients and employees think is an important component of improving their experiences. Moreover, there are further actions an organization should take to become an experience leader:

  • Develop and implement a strategy – Make the patient experience a part of the vision and mission of the organization, to reflect a commitment to the same. Develop and implement strategies to better understand patient’s desires, and then define methods to help drive improvements, and measure progress.
  • Have a dedicated experience department and senior leader – A dedicated team can help gain buy-in and accountability across the organization and lead key efforts related to the patient experience. The department should focus solely on surveys and reports, addressing complaints, service recovery activities, staff training, and driving key experience initiatives and process improvements.
  • Invest in experience efforts – Implement appropriate technology solutions such as experience management software, conduct patient journey mapping exercises, digitize key processes that simplify and add value to each patient’s journey, and invest in training employees as changes are implemented.
  • Partner across the organization – Engage department leads, facility managers, physicians, nurses, and other groups in the patient experience strategic plan. Make it a central part of the culture, to ensure consistent and ideal outcomes.
  • Measure experience performance – Define what success looks like and develop KPIs to measure experiences. Identify and act on the lead indicators that are attributed to each measurement. Consider aligning executive compensation with performance and holding the leadership team accountable.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter the normal structure of healthcare systems’ day-to-day activities, it is imperative that they develop strategies for adapting quickly and as needed, including communication, access to care, and wellness resources.  Here are some examples of specific actions healthcare systems have been taking during the pandemic:

  • Transparent communication – Disseminating information to the public about changing protocols and safety measures to slow the spread of the virus ensures trust and credibility while increasing collaboration among physicians and other healthcare professionals. This, in turn, creates a support network and increases the sharing of the latest relevant information to provide consistent information to patients and their families.
  • Access to care options – Offering virtual care options, including instructions for how to navigate virtual media for both patients and physicians and using proper video quality to enhance the experience.
  • Wellness resources – Implementing wellness resources for healthcare professionals, including therapy and counseling, to help them cope with the long working hours and constant grief experienced due to the impact of COVID-19 on them and their patients.

With so many changes happening across the industry due to the pandemic, technology advancements, public policy, and the inherent complexity of healthcare, it is imperative for healthcare systems to ensure that their business processes, policies, operations, service standards, and technologies are all considered in terms of improving the overall patient experience. Improving the patient experience can help increase loyalty and build brand awareness and reputation, thus strengthening the overall healthcare system’s performance.

Improving the patient experience can help increase loyalty and build brand awareness and reputation, thus strengthening the overall healthcare system’s performance.

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