February 4, 2019

Patient Satisfaction: What Healthcare Providers Need to Know

There is a vital shift happening right now in consumer healthcare.

People are bringing their technology-fueled expectations to their healthcare experiences, and patients are increasingly demanding innovation in the way care is delivered and managed.

Just like in retail, travel and transportation, financial services, automotive, and nearly every industry, the old fee-for-service and fix-what’s-broken approach is no longer enough. The increasingly wired class of savvy, empowered consumers want more options, fairer prices, greater convenience, and better interactions across the continuum of care.

And patients? They’re not satisfied.

  • What patients think: 81 percent of healthcare consumers are dissatisfied with their patient experience.
  • What providers think: 63 percent of providers believe they deliver high-quality patient experience to consumers.
  • What patients think: In terms of factors that influence patient satisfaction levels, healthcare consumers care more about customer service and bedside manner than level of medical skill.
  • What providers think: On the list of top issues confronting the healthcare C-suite, patient satisfaction does not make the top five.
  • What patients think: 68 percent of healthcare consumers turn to online reviews, social media, and health research sites to find a new doctor, make a decision about hospitals, and read information about quality of care.
  • What providers think: Only 5 percent of providers identify as digital-first organizations. 43 percent admit to lacking digital marketing capability because of unsuitable organizational structure.

So: how do healthcare providers close this gap between patient expectations and the reality?

Improving Patient Satisfaction: Keys to Success

In order to meet healthcare consumers’ expectations and drive patient satisfaction levels, providers must adopt a customer-centric approach aimed at expanding the ways in which care is delivered.

The three keys to success are: truly understand patients, optimize the patient experience, and invest in digital technology.

Truly Understand Patients

Healthcare providers should be able to achieve a more complete and accurate view of the customer, as well as manage high-impact trends and issues affecting the patient experience.

Before influencing consumer behavior, providers must first understand it: from initial contact, through the process of engagement, to post-transactional interactions and long-term relationships.

Capture feedback through patient satisfaction surveys. Patient satisfaction surveys are one of the best ways to gauge the patient experience and understand your healthcare group’s online reputation.

One option is the HCAHPS survey, which is the standard for gauging the experience of any healthcare provider.

In some cases, healthcare groups like Nicklaus Children’s Hospital use HCAHPS with advanced survey software to gain additional information on patient satisfaction and sentiment.

Read patient reviews. There is a wide array of scores- or ratings-based systems for measuring patient satisfaction, but don’t dismiss patient reviews posted on popular sites like Yelp.

In fact, the BMJ Quality and Safety Journal found that Yelp reviews and ratings closely match patient experience in hospitals, and provide a pretty accurate online prediction of patients’ offline experience.

If you’re looking to provide higher levels of patient satisfaction, you must read your reviews objectively and identify critical service issues and problems that need to be solved. Doing so will improve and strengthen the connections you have with existing and potential patients.

Optimize the Patient Experience

As the clout of healthcare consumers grows, so do their options.

To encourage preference and inspire loyalty, providers must foster trust-based relationships with customers and consistently deliver patient experiences that captivate and go beyond achieving better health outcomes.

Seek out interactions. Go out of your way to actively engage and interact with patients.

“If you want to stem patient dissatisfaction,” writes industry expert Micah Solomon, “(then) stop giving off cues of indifference and uncaring.

“Such as: Healthcare professionals avoiding eye contact with ‘civilians.’ Med students hurrying self-importantly down the halls, nearly running down the slow-moving patients who won’t get with the program. Patients ignored by nurses who haven’t yet clocked in and therefore don’t realize they are already (poorly) representing their institution. Doctors in the hallway loudly carrying on about the relative benefits of different Canyon Ranch vacations they’ve taken.”

Strive to delight by seeking out interactions with patients. Actively look for opportunities to make them feel comfortable, reassured, and cared for.

Get creative with the wait. Patients hate waiting. If you can’t change actual wait times, at least make patients feel as though they’re not doing the waiting for nothing.

Make the waiting space attractive, comfortable, and pleasant. Provide guidance on expected times. Minimize uncertainty. Keep the waiting room updated and explain what’s going on.

According to a study, patient satisfaction can more than double when the waiting room is viewed as “comfortable and pleasant” by patients with the same perceived length of wait.

Sit down. The posture of physicians may seem trivial next to matters of life and death, sickness and health. But this can actually have an impact on patient satisfaction.

When asked, patients say that they want their doctor to be seated when possible: one study observed a 52 percent patient preference for this versus only 8 percent for standing.

Show empathy. Even if you are known as an expert in your field and your patient waitlist is sizable, learning how to be an empathic listener is the most important and influential change you can make to improve patient satisfaction.

Going through a disciplined and structured patient interview will provide you with valuable health insights as well as information not present in the medical history, but how you react to those responses will also make a world of difference in how patients perceive you.

Do not respond to statements associated with disease, pain, or suffering with additional questions. First, communicate concern and empathy that will set the stage for a more open conversation and will result in a patient that feels valued and cared for.

Display care and concern even as you wrap up. As you finish consultations, make it a point to ask your patients if all their medical issues have been addressed to their satisfaction, and give them an opportunity for additional questions.

Also, confirm that they are clear about their prescription as well as the prognosis. Make sure all patients leave with a sense of control over their health, and leave them with the perception that you have done everything in your power to make them better.

Medical practices with the best online reputation have incorporated post-consultation calls to ensure patient satisfaction, and they tackle any issues before they become negative reviews on popular online review websites.

Invest in Digital

The use of top technology and data can help providers improve patient access, boost patient acquisition, manage feedback, and enhance brand reputation.

In an industry ripe for disruption, technology can also transform entire organizations (not just marketing departments) and exert bottom line impact through reduced costs, increased operational efficiencies, and improved processes.

Manage your online reputation. One of the first things you have to ensure is that your facility or practice is easily found online. Then, when found by searchers online, you must be able to inspire trust and confidence among patients through great reviews, positive customer experiences, and strong social proof and testimonials.

Plant your flags on social media, online review sites, and local business directories. Keep your business information up-to-date. Leverage the power of review widgets. Respond to patient reviews.

Identify patient satisfaction metrics. In order to truly measure patient satisfaction, providers must look beyond patient outcomes.

Other key metrics for tracking satisfaction data include: Net Promoter Score, patient wait times, inbound phone call answer rates, survey response rates, and patient reviews and ratings, among others. It’s wise to invest in tools that empower your organization to achieve a more complete picture of the patient experience.

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