4 Ways to Improve the Patient Experience in Your Practice

It's not easy being a healthcare provider.  Especially when it comes to establishing and maintaining patient relationships.  In an ideal world, you would spend ample time with your patients- even the ones presenting with a simple case of strep or otitis.  You would call them back the next day to follow-up.  Your provider-patient relationship would be soundly based on trust, peppered with lighthearted laughs despite occasionally serious conversation.  But let's get real.

The typical medical practice does not operate in this manner.  You are pressured to treat three to four patients an hour.  Your time is precious and cannot be overspent.  You may get paid based on how many patients you treat.  Appointments take longer than expected throwing off your schedule and patients get impatient.  As a result, you miss your lunch break; you get cranky.  The billing procedures at your practice are not streamlined, insurance coverage is confusing making both you and your patients dissatisfied.  You are unable to spend the time necessary with your patients to build the relationship you both desire.  What are some easy ways we as providers can improve the patient experience in our practices?

A recent Harris poll surveyed patients regarding ways to improve satisfaction with their medical visits.  Overall, patients were not very satisfied with their experiences.  Patients expressed a 47% satisfaction rate with their last medical visit, the same score assigned to their last car purchase.  Younger patients, ages 18 to 35, expressed only 35% satisfaction with their most recent medical encounter, alarmingly close to the scores received by recent interactions with insurance companies (29%) and cell phone stores (28%).  The Harris poll identifies a few aspects of medical practice that would improve their provider-patient interaction.

1. E-mail Access to Providers

The thought of patients having unlimited e-mail access to their services sends chills down the spines of many providers.  They assume their e-mail volume will skyrocket while their income will plummet resulting from dispensing free advice.  Just 12% of patients have access to their providers via e-mail while 30% consider it important and 23% consider it very important.  In talking to providers who offer this service, however it is not as overwhelming as it seems.  Patients seem to want the comfort and convenience of asking a question every so often but this practice does not typically lead to fewer appointments scheduled or a major jump in the number of e-mails in their inboxes.  It might be worth a trial run in your practice. 

2. Online Cost Estimator

Costs associated with healthcare are tricky.  As providers we really don't even know what we charge for our own services.  Insurance reimbursent rates vary as do our patient's plans.  But, we can at least have a pricing handout or online posting available for cash pay patients or patients who have insurance plans such as health savings accounts where prices of medical care directly affect patient's bank accounts and financial future. 

3. Online Access to Medical Records

Providers tend to be a bit private regarding their patient documentation.  What if the patient sees that I have diagnosed them with morbid obesity?!  Well, medical records are fact, patients have a right to see them and polls indicate that they want to.  And guess what, your morbidly obese patient is well aware of their weight problem.  Just 17% of patients have online access to their medical records while 33% see this as important and 32% see it as very important.  Patient access to records will improve lives of providers as well.  What if you didn't have to make a few calls then wait on hold to get your pateint's most recent MRI results from the orthopedist but rather your patient could simply login and print them out for you?  Easier for everyone!

4. Online Appointment Setting

Online appointment setting will not only please your patients but will also save your practice time and money in administrative tasks.  Let patients do the work of appointment setting for you.  30% of patients feel the ability to make appointments online is important and 21% of patients feel is it very important.  Yet, only 11% of patients are able to set medical appointments online.  Set your practice above the rest by implementing an online appointment system.

These changes may take some effort, up front cost and time on your part as a provider.  The results, however will result in a vast improvement of the satisfaction of your patients in their visits to your practice.  And who knows, you might just feel the difference too.  After all, happy patients make happy providers.

Have you implemented any of these changes in your practice?  What do you find your patients ask for to increase their satisfaction with the patient experience?