doctor using a digital tablet while talking to young child patient

Creating a positive patient experience is more important than ever. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also leads to better health outcomes. And that’s a win for both healthcare providers and their clients. In fact, as the healthcare industry develops new strategies for optimizing patient communications and engagement, other industries can benefit from the resulting best practices.

What is patient experience (and why does it matter)?

Patient experience (PX) describes how patients interact with healthcare organizations, like hospitals and doctor’s office, and how they perceive those interactions.

You’ll often see similar abbreviations for other types of experiences that matter to businesses. For instance, CX (customer experience) and UX (user experience) matter to technology companies and consumer brands because they contribute to the success of the company. In the case of healthcare, the customer is the patient and the experience is focused on optimizing the patient’s health.

Doctor using an iPad
Incorporating technology can assist in improving the patient experience.

And yet, while customer experience is a significant factor in the success of the organization, only 43% of doctor’s practices surveyed by The Beryl Institute say that improving patient experience is among their top three priorities. Compare that with Forrester data that shows 72% of businesses say improving customer experience is their top priority.

6 Ways to improve patient experience

Since healthcare is a consumer focused business, it’s clear that approaches to improving customer experience, can also help design the ideal patient experience. Let’s dig in to a few strategies that can be used to improve patient experience (PX).

1. Measure patient interactions

One of the first steps to understanding patient, caregiver, and family healthcare experiences is measuring the quality of the experience. You’ll need a baseline of data to use a starting point in order to quantify improvements in patient satisfaction. Measure your results against this baseline to understand what tactics or programs work.

Measure patient satisfaction scores before, during and after an episode of care. The standard survey is CAHPS (Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems). Because this survey includes a standardized set of questions, comparing the answers across healthcare organizations quantifies the performance of issues like communication with doctors and nurses, cleanliness, and overall rating of the facilities. In addition, Net Promoter Scores (NPS), which is a popular metric for businesses, can also be applied to healthcare, augmenting your CAHPS data.

2. Map out the patient journey

As defined by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality:  “Patient experience encompasses the range of interactions that patients have with the health care system, including their care from health plans, and from doctors, nurses, and staff in hospitals, physician practices, and other health care facilities.” With so many interactions to consider, where do you start?

Pick a scenario and patient persona and step into their shoes. Go through every step they would take when interacting with your organization. From setting up an appointment, to sitting in the waiting room, chart out their activities, motivations, and any barriers or friction they may run into when trying to complete the task. To improve the patient experience, you want to remove these barriers.

You can even map the patient journey beyond the walls of a hospital. Think about how to improve communications from the first patient contact, whether it’s through the web or on the phone. Even switching from an interactive voice recognition system to a real person who answers the phone can be a huge differentiator in improving the patient experience. Offering timely appointments and easy to access information promotes not only effective communication and coordination of care, but also ensures individuals are engaged with their care, which improves outcomes.

hospital wayfinding digital signage
Keep patients informed. Technology like digital signage can help.

3. Improve communication at every step of the patient visit

From the moment a patient makes an appointment, you have the opportunity to improve communication. For example, set up an automated sequence of texts or emails that remind patients about upcoming appointments. You can even remind them of transportation and parking options or an overview of the procedure they will encounter. Tools like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms and Electronic Health Records (EHR) enable this type of automation.

Once patients are at your clinic or facility, you can continue to find ways to improve experience through communication. For example, when you map the patient’s journey, you might find that difficulty navigating the building leads to frustration and late arrival at appointments. One highly effective solution is to utilize digital signage wayfinding technology. At Enplug, we’ve seen that clients with digital maps and directories have an easier time getting visitors the information they need to navigate unfamiliar buildings.

4. Engage individual patients as partners in their care

Even the times when a caregiver isn’t interacting directly with a patient offers an opportunity to improve the healthcare experience. Leverage patient experience surveys and one-on-one patient and family interviews during waiting room times. Talking to your customers not only gives you the feedback necessary to understand what to improve, but also empowers your patients to effect change. This can be a powerful motivation for patients to become active and engaged participants in their own care.

Pediatrician and patient

A common patient complaint is the amount of time spent waiting before or after an appointment. Since digital signage on TV screens is a proven method of reducing perceived wait time, technology can be an effective solution. Automated content like Enplug’s Daily Health Tips App to provide relevant information while saving staff time and keeping waiting areas uncluttered.

Instead of offering months-old magazines or medical brochures, use technology like digital signage to keep waiting patients and family members engaged. Caregivers spend even more time waiting than patients, so offer information and resources that will expand their health literacy and keep them entertained. In addition, patients want to know who is caring for them, so highlight facts about your employees and staff to personalize the healthcare experience.

Digital signage showing healthcare team
Introduce your team to patients with fun facts.

5. Promote prevention for improved outcomes

When you increase patient knowledge, you can improve both the patient experience and health outcomes. Many conditions and adverse outcomes can be prevented when patients get the right information about proper care.

While mass marketing campaigns and email programs targeted to specific demographics or to at-risk patients can yield good results, there are many smaller initiatives that can impact patient outcomes.  For example, once patients are out of the office or facility, electronic health records software can enable campaigns that direct them to a website offering clear instructions on disease management strategies.

On-premise education is easy to implement and can have a significant impact, especially during pre or post-operative visits. Even a tactic as simple as showing a video of how to complete a recovery exercise or cook a special diet recipe can contribute to the patient experience. Share website links, QR codes and SMS short codes during patient waiting times to promote opt-in education.

6. Create a patient-focused workplace culture

The patient experience is greatly influenced by human-to-human interactions. Your team members have a huge impact on whether a patient’s experience is a positive or negative one. Patients should be treated with compassion, even when at the moment when they act in a way that makes it difficult to do so. Empower and energize staff to become patient focused with discussion prompts and exercises designed to reinforce the patient-centered transformation effort. Some examples can be found here.

Influencing the culture of an organization can be difficult. Your team will need repeated exposure to any new messaging and procedures before they are fully implemented. Expectations and accountabilities can be introduced in team meetings and reinforced in follow up emails. They can also be embedded into job descriptions and performance reviews.