The customer is always right. This phrase, which is regularly bandied about, allegedly originated from Swiss hotelier César Ritz. This founder of Ritz Carlton hotels began using the phrase “the customer is never wrong” as early as the 1890s.
If you’ve ever worked in retail or spent any considerable amount of time in a shopping environment, though, you know there are cases where this doesn’t ring true. Even so, it’s the goal — or at least should be — of any service provider to ensure a favorable customer experience.
Although healthcare is, for the most part, different from retail, the satisfaction of customers — in this case, patients — is a priority for providers. It takes more than greeting patients with a smile and listening carefully to them, even though these are important.
Factors That Affect Patient Satisfaction
There’s not one finite definition of patient satisfaction, but the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) refers to it as whether a patient’s expectations about a health encounter were met. Basically, it’s about whether or not a patient is happy about the care he or she received. It’s a little different than A patient experience, which is based on what should happen during their appointment — and whether that actually occurred.
There are a variety of factors throughout the healthcare journey that have the potential to affect patient satisfaction, and understanding them is crucial for any provider. These factors consist of expectations of care, communication with and responsiveness of the provider and his or her staff, pain management, cleanliness, and timeliness of phone calls, appointments, and test results. Would you believe there’s research that found that even the attire of a physician and his or her staff can have an effect on patient satisfaction?
The Perks of Patient Satisfaction
Having an irritable patient or ones who seem to complain about every little thing can be frustrating for any medical group. Your practice can’t make every patient happy all the time — but it can, and should, try.
Failing to promote patient satisfaction can be costly for your practice. Industry estimates put the loss of a patient due to dissatisfaction at more than $200,000 in income over the lifetime of a practice. And that’s for just one patient!
Achieving high levels of patient satisfaction, on the other hand, offers myriad advantages for your practice. For example, patients with better care experiences often have better health outcomes and are more likely to adhere to medical advice and treatment plans. This is especially beneficial for patients with chronic conditions.
On the revenue side, patient satisfaction influences providers’ reimbursement rates. Therefore, favorable patient satisfaction rates result in higher reimbursement rates and greater market share.
Your medical group’s finances can also be positively affected by patient satisfaction through building loyalty, which in turn helps boost retention and attracts new patients through word-of-mouth referrals. You’ll enhance your practice reputation, leading to patients being more likely to show up for their appointments.
This probably won’t surprise you, but patient satisfaction has the potential to make your practice employees happier at work. Not only do patients more satisfied with their healthcare help increase the productivity of your staff, thereby reducing turnover, but research also shows that physicians with more satisfied patients tend to experience less burnout.
Easy-to-Implement Methods for Boosting Patient Satisfaction
So, just how are you supposed to achieve and maintain high levels of patient satisfaction — beyond a friendly introduction and a clean waiting room? Check out our five easy-to-implement recommendations for making your patients happier.
1. Decrease Patient Wait Times
Physician offices with longer wait times tend to receive lower patient satisfaction scores. This isn’t breaking news. Nor is the fact that wait time is a key quality metric in a number of national patient experience surveys.
A large survey found that 97 percent of respondents were frustrated by wait times at the doctor’s office. There’s even research that shows that patients use average appointment wait times as a deciding factor in choosing a new clinician. Some patients opt to seek care at alternative healthcare facilities, such as urgent care and retail health clinics.
Lengthy wait times also can cost you through canceled appointments or no-shows and a negative reputation fostered by unhappy patients. Even more seriously, some patients who have to wait too long to see their provider may experience worsening health, thereby increasing healthcare costs through an added level of complexity of care.
One way to reduce wait times in your practice is by focusing on patient flow. Poor flow leads to delays in treatment and crowding and has been identified as a barrier to the provision of quality care. Inefficiencies in patient flow can be measured through patient flow analysis (PFA), which uses actionable data and pre-defined metrics.
Another is giving patients the tools to check in online. This gives them more control — an essential tenet of healthcare consumerism — and allows them to complete the task on their own time, when it’s convenient for them.
2. Concentrate on Communication
Utilizing effective communication doesn’t sound too complex, but it’s an area many medical groups neglect. Research has identified numerous ways communication can lead to better health outcomes, such as reducing medication errors and decreasing hospital readmissions. Plus, evidence indicates there are strong positive relationships between a healthcare team member’s communication skills and a patient’s capacity to follow through with medical recommendations, self-manage a chronic medical condition, and adopt preventive health behaviors.
Improve your practice’s provider-patient communications by:
- Being attentive to nonverbal communication
- Knowing your patients’ communication preferences
- Personalizing messages when possible
- Training your staff on best practices
- Trying to avoid complex medical jargon
- Allowing your patients to ask questions
It’s imperative that you engage your patients at the right time through the right channel with the right message. More than 95 percent of patients prefer texting for healthcare communication and want to receive texts for things like appointment confirmations, appointment reminders, and previsit and care instructions.
3. Provide Patient Education
Not every patient has the same level of education. Nor do all speak the same language. Don’t forget to take these social determinants of health (SDOH) into account when communicating with your patients.
Assessing your patients for their level of health literacy can help you choose different methods of interacting with them. For example, you might use short sentences without overly technical medical terms, offer assistance with completing forms, include visual aids, and proactively address cultural barriers that may prevent patients from understanding the information you’re giving them.
Poor education may lead to unrealistic patient goals and expectations. Unmet patient expectations then often lead to dissatisfaction when the ideal outcomes, such as total disease clearance, are not reached.
4. Deliver Patient-Centered Care
Patient-centered care (PCC) encourages individuals to be more active participants in their own care with the goal of improving health outcomes. Medical groups focused on patient-centered care assist in reducing unnecessary tests and procedures, decreasing overall healthcare utilization, and improving morale and productivity for both clinicians and the team members who support them.
According to the Commonwealth Fund, organizations can drive patient-centered care by emphasizing the following seven attributes:
- Leadership and C-suite engagement
- Communication of clear strategic mission
- Patient and family advisory and involvement when launching initiatives
- Supportive work environment for clinicians and caregivers
- Systemic measurement and feedback loops
- High-quality environments
- Health IT that supports strategic patient-centered missions
5. Utilize Surveys
As we mentioned in a recent blog, patient feedback enables medical groups and other healthcare providers to understand what’s expected of them. There are a variety of ways to get feedback from your patients, and using a combination of them is ideal.
One of the most widely-used methods for capturing patient feedback is through the CAHPS® Clinician & Group Survey (CG-CAHPS), which asks patients to report on their experiences with providers and staff in primary care and specialty care settings. Another technique is having patients complete in-app surveys after checking in for an appointment or making a payment. They can respond to automated surveys sent via email or text message at their convenience through their mobile device while their care experience is still fresh in their mind.
Patient feedback gathering doesn’t have to be formal. You can ask members of your staff to share input from patients, whether it’s in the waiting room, on the way to the exam, or at check-out.
6. Offer Digital Health Tools
Digital health tools are designed to enable patients to take a more active role in their own health. They already expect convenient, quality care at a reasonable cost. — the primary tenets of healthcare consumerism.
When your medical group optimally deploys digital tools, these resources have the potential to not only increase patient satisfaction but also improve medication adherence, reduce in-office wait times, and help consumers track and monitor their health. They offer easier access to real-time data, greater continuity of care, and advanced data sharing and accuracy.
Digital health solutions like digital check-in can streamline patient flow and practice efficiency by providing patients the option to fill out paperwork and complete the registration process before their appointment. In many cases, this allows providers to see more patients each day.
Our cloud-based patient engagement platform combined with Kyruus’ online search and scheduling solutions helps patients easily find and schedule care, complete pre-visit tasks, and meaningfully engage with their providers. Contact us to find out how you can modernize patient access and scheduling across your medical group.