Updated: Oct 18, 2019
Patients are the lifeblood of any medical practice. To run a successful medical operation that goes beyond focusing solely on medical practice financing or the monetary side of the business, it’s crucial to also focus on improving the patient experience.
“Patient experience impacts almost every aspect of medical practice, from its clinical outcomes to its profitability,” said Rafael E. Salazar II, M.H.S., registered and licensed occupational therapist, and the CEO and president of Rehab U Practice Solutions.
If patients have a bad experience at your practice, they are they less likely to come back and finish their treatments. Also, they may be more inclined to write a negative review online. This could damage your reputation and hinder your ability to attract new patients.
“On the other hand,” said Salazar, “patients that have exceptional experiences in a clinic are more likely to be actively engaged in treatment (so they’ll likely complete their course of care).” They’re also more inclined to return in the future, he added, and recommend your services to people in their community.
Figuring out how to improve patient satisfaction is critical to your practice’s reputation, revenue, and longevity. Fortunately, it’s an area you can control. Keep reading for seven strategies on how to improve your patient experience.
Your staff plays a key role in improving your patients’ experiences. So, it’s a good idea to schedule regular check-ins to ensure they’re providing excellent care and customer service.
“Ultimately, staff (both support and clinical) need to understand that healthcare is a human experience,” said Salazar. “Staff should be trained and encouraged to actively listen to patients’ needs, concerns, and frustrations,” he explained, “and then make decisions that show those patients that they’ve been heard and understood.”
Holding one-on-one meetings with your staff is an easy way to address questions. It’s also a great venue for discussing patient-specific issues, setting and evaluate performance goals, and finding out how your staff feels about their work.
According to a 2018 MGMA report that compiled the best strategies from top medical groups, over 90% of the most successful practices sent out annual employee satisfaction surveys. What’s more, those practices then shared and discussed the survey results together. This creates a culture of transparency and collaboration. Plus, it helps staff feel more engaged in the process of improving the patient experience.
It’s also helpful to organize quarterly meetings or training sessions with your staff. “We close the office once every 90 days and have a staff training day,” said Dr. Richard Amato, a clinical director at Advanced Periodontics and Dental Implant Center of Connecticut. “Topics can range from proper phone etiquette to a new technique, or how to improve our level of customer service,” he explained.
To improve patient satisfaction, you need to figure out what your patients want. Jason Power, a managing director at The Hearing Clinic, said, “Feedback allows you the opportunity to learn more about your client’s needs, and also ensures that they feel heard.”
Try sending out online surveys, asking patients to fill out a questionnaire, or setting aside five minutes to debrief after each appointment. According to the MGMA report, 86% of the top-performing practices sent patient satisfaction surveys to patients after each visit. As a result, nearly 94% of those practices reviewed the results every month.
When reviewing patient feedback, you might learn that your patients want a calmer office environment. Or perhaps they want better physician communication, or an easier way to track appointments.
Another way of improving the patient experience through feedback is to read your practice’s online reviews and respond to any negative comments or feedback. According to a 2019 survey from PatientPop, when a practice responds to a negative review, the patient satisfaction score nearly doubles, increasing 99%.
In addition to pinpointing areas of improvement, take note of positive comments, too. After all, it’s just as important to “have processes in place to duplicate good experiences,” said Power, as it is to fix broken systems.
Obtaining feedback is just the first part of the equation when it comes to how to improve patient satisfaction, though. To create change, you also need to take action to incorporate your patients’ suggestions. “Get the staff involved,” Power said. He further went on, “get them engaged, and help them see the benefit of how you improve a patient’s quality of life each day.”
Using tools that simplify health systems can help reduce patient stress and confusion, in turn improving patient experience and boosting satisfaction.
If you don’t already use online patient portals, consider investing in software that lets you build a portal system. According to a 2017 MGMA report on patient access and scheduling, nearly 79% of patients said they’ve used a patient portal for one reason or another.
Online portals make it easy for patients to set and track appointments and view their health history. Plus, it lets them request prescriptions, ask questions, and see test results. And mobile-friendly portals, which allow patients to check their health information from their phones, are even better.
For Amato’s practice, utilizing technology benefits patients and staff. “Our patients love getting in touch with us through texts and email,” Amato said. “We can usually respond in minutes and they get reminder texts of their next appointment,” he explained.
Ultimately, it’s helpful to give your patients choices. Some patients may still appreciate the option to call and make appointments over the phone. Others, meanwhile, may prefer the convenience of an online system.
It’s important to follow up with patients, especially new ones, said Adrien Paczosa, registered and licensed dietician, CEDRD-S, and owner and creator of Fearless Practitioners and iLiveWell Nutrition and Therapy.
“From a quick phone call to a thank you note in the mail,” Paczosa said, “or even an email sharing a few extra things from your session together, following up with a new client can help to make sure that the client returns.”
It’s a good idea to roll out this system for improving patient experience with more established patients, too. Depending on the appointment and your patients’ preferred method of communication, you could send an email with treatment tips. You could also call to ask how they’re recovering after a procedure. Or, send a text reminding patients that you’re available if they have any questions. These steps, while seemingly small, can go a long way toward gaining a patient’s trust and loyalty.
Waiting before or during an appointment is one of the most frustrating experiences a patient can have when visiting a medical practice. Plus, from an operational standpoint, long wait times disrupt the flow of appointments. This means you may see fewer patients throughout the day and potentially lose money as a result.
“Everyone’s time is valuable,” said Paczosa. He continues: “and having new clients or existing clients wait can show that their time and health is not of value to the practitioner.”
A simple solution to how to improve the patient experience is to make an effort to cut down on wait times. This can increase patient satisfaction and ensure you accommodate as many appointments as possible.
One way to prevent waiting is to send new patients paperwork before their appointments, Salazar suggested. This way they don’t have to spend time filling in forms when they arrive. This accomplishes two things: “It allows the patient to get seen quicker,” he said, “and it allows the clinician to review any pertinent information before they sit down with the patient.”
It’s also smart to be realistic when scheduling appointments. Consider adding a buffer to each appointment to account for patients who arrive late or procedures that take longer than usual. Make sure you send a text or email reminders to patients about their appointment times. Additionally, ask that they arrive a few minutes early to check in and get settled.
Transparency is crucial to improving patient experience, too. If you’re running behind, Paczosa recommended letting patients know. “A quick call or text to the patient can make a world of difference,” she said.
Streamlining your practice’s billing and payment processes can drastically help when it comes to how to improve patient satisfaction.
Due to the complicated nature of healthcare costs, “Most patients really have no idea what to expect as far as their personal costs for receiving treatment,” said Salazar. “Almost nothing is as disheartening to a patient as receiving care,” he explained. “Paying their co-pay or out-of-pocket costs at a clinic, thinking they’re good to go, and then receiving a fat bill two to three months after the appointment,” he continued.
According to a 2019 VisitPay report, 57% of health practices don’t provide cost information to patients prior to appointments. This is despite the fact that 65% of patients said cost played a major role in their satisfaction with a provider. Being transparent about costs can reduce patient stress and help foster trust between patients and healthcare providers.
Consider doing the cost configuration for your patients ahead of time. Salazar said: collect their insurance information, call their insurance company to determine the costs for their treatment or evaluation, then call the patient back. “Tell them how much to expect for copay or coinsurance and, more importantly,” he said. He continued: “How much you expect the after-insurance balance to be.”
Make sure your staff is prepared to answer insurance questions, address financial concerns, and review the details of bills with patients.
And when it comes to payments, try to be flexible. Give patients the option to pay online through their patient portal, set up automated payments, pay with a credit card or cash, or pay in installments.
Improving patient experience comes down to defining — and practicing — your core values. “The process of care, which greatly impacts patient experience,” said Salazar, “is really shaped and defined by the higher purpose and overall culture of an organization.”
Consider your practice’s mission and philosophy, then take some time to write down your key values. Think: empathy, engagement, transparency, or empowerment. Defining your core values is the first step to building systems and processes that reflect a patient-centered culture.
Let’s say transparency is a core tenet of your practice. So, you need to train your staff on the importance of communicating clearly with patients about costs, treatment regimens, and procedures.
If compassion is a core value, how you improve patient satisfaction is to work on listening to your patients. “It greatly improves a patient’s experience and engagement in treatment when they are allowed to share their concerns, goals, and feelings, and are allowed to have those guide treatment,” Salazar explained.
Remember to view patients as individuals — not numbers — and strive to offer personalized service. “By connecting on a personal level,” said Amato, “our patients are more likely to follow our recommendations and continue their care on a regular recall interval, and that assures us a successful outcome.”
Learning how to improve patient experience requires examining and refining every aspect of your physician practice, including your billing process, onboarding system, and communication policies. Good customer service is essential to your success. When patients feel cared for and understood, they’re more likely to return, pay for quality care, and recommend your services to others.