Why the Patient Experience Matters

I recently visited a friend in the hospital who, in the words of her doctor, had suffered a life-threatening event. When I arrived at her hospital room, her cardiologist was sitting on a sofa next to my friend and her daughter. For the next 15 minutes, he talked to her about what might have precipitated her condition, and went on to discuss some of her options to avoid another such frightening event. I recall being very surprised and impressed that this doctor was spending such quality time with her. I guess I have grown accustomed to seeing a doctor walk into the room, make a few pronouncements about the patient’s situation and then immediately head down the hall to the next patient.

Photo of a doctor and patientWhile I would like to think that my friend’s doctor just happened to be caring and compassionate and had plenty of time for his patients, it is equally likely that the hospital my friend was in has a “patient experience” program. In recent years, a focus on hospital safety has been evolving into a focus on a consistent patient experience. 90% of hospitals now have “patient experience” as a strategic priority. The reasons for this are many. But the most important one is that experience impacts quality. Numerous surveys have revealed that a patient’s perceptions of quality care are tied directly to receiving compassionate care. In fact, “compassionate care/staff” wins out with consumers over cleanliness, experienced staff and the latest technology.

Quality is the new name of the game in the health care reform era. In October of 2013, patient satisfaction ratings will become an urgent but uncertain goal for hospitals in response to Medicare’s plans to tie a small percentage of reimbursement to “value-based purchasing” bonuses. These bonuses will be determined by comparing hospitals both on their adherence to clinical performance guidelines (70% of weighted score) and on the patient’s perception of the quality of care (30%)—based on post-discharge survey questions on such aspects of care as pain control, cleanliness of rooms and whether clinicians treated patients with respect.

So while the financial stakes are high for hospitals to improve their patient satisfaction scores, there are other equally important reasons why patient experience programs make sense:

  • A patient experience program can facilitate a unified vision and mission for the entire hospital organization. As an example, in 2009, the Cleveland Clinic identified that their patients did not think much of their experience there. As a result, they made improving the patient experience a strategic priority. By spelling out the problems and identifying gaps in the process in a systematic fashion, everyone in the organization—including physicians who thought that only medical outcomes mattered—began to recognize that patient dissatisfaction was a significant issue and that all employees, even administrators and janitors, were “caregivers” who should play a role in fixing it.
  • Positive patient experience and satisfaction scores can help to instill loyalty and differentiate your organization. Effective medical care, safety and efficiency are now cost of entry. What hospitals do to create the best possible experience and how they deliver that care will help them differentiate themselves and create patient ambassadors that will spread the word.
  • A patient experience program necessitates that you understand how your patients are treated and helps you walk in their shoes. To understand how patients feel, hospitals are now contracting with professional “patient observers” who shadow patients throughout their hospital stay and report on every aspect of the experience to better understand how the patients felt and the physician/staff behaved throughout the hospital visit. The learning is used to identify gaps and create new ways to interact with patients.
  • A patient experience program can help create innovative solutions and reduce costs. According to the Center for Disease Control, nine out of ten adults have difficulty following routine medical advice. And one in five Medicare patients will be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days. Those admissions average $13,200. To address this problem, hospitals are developing new procedures for educating patients about their follow-up care and medications. Cullman Regional Hospital in Alabama developed a discharge program where the physicians and nurses record their patient instructions so that when they return home, they can reference their instructions any time.

As marketers, a patient experience program could truly be the best tool in our toolbox. It enlists the entire organization at every level to focus on one of our most important marketing goals: creating satisfied, loyal patients!

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