Tools for Meeting Patient Expectations
During the height of the pandemic, the focus of care providers understandably shifted towards the urgent task of preserving lives. Consequently, training and focus to create a positive patient experience took a back seat, leading to a decline in patient satisfaction scores across hospitals in the United States.
Today’s environment requires health care organizations to renew focus on patient experience. How organizations meet, exceed, or disappoint our patients’ expectations for quality, timely, and compassionate care is a crucial driver of health outcomes, loyalty, and overall cost.
To truly deliver high-quality care to our patients, and further improve the stability and sustainability of health care organizations and our health care system, we must also renew our commitment to understanding and meeting patient expectations. Patient health literally depends on it.
The role of patient expectations in outcomes
Patient expectations play a pivotal role in shaping a patient’s experience and satisfaction within the health care system. These expectations encompass a wide range of factors, including health care accessibility, facilities, and clinicians’ interpersonal and clinical skills.
Meeting patients’ expectations is so important that the same care delivered to two patients with different expectations will result in varying experiences, levels of satisfaction, and possibly different outcomes.
Several studies have highlighted the significant impact of patient satisfaction on indicators such as adherence to treatment plans and 30-day readmission rates. One study focusing on patients with hypertension found that the more satisfied the patient was with physician-patient communication, the better their adherence and self-care, underscoring the crucial role of patient satisfaction in treatment adherence.
Multiple studies, including one from PubMed and another from The American Journal of Managed Care, have demonstrated the significant relationship between patient satisfaction and quality measures such as 30-day readmission rates.
The consistent evidence shows that meeting patient expectations significantly impacts health outcomes across a range of use cases in hospital-based care , making it a priority.
So, what should we understand about patient expectations in order to meet or even exceed those expectations?
Patients want more personal, more integrated care
Patient expectations have evolved significantly over time, influenced by factors such as technological advancements, changes in health care delivery models, and increasing patient empowerment.
Historically, expectations were often centered around access to care, quality of service, and effective communication with health care providers. Today, patient expectations have expanded to encompass a desire for personalized, patient-centered care, convenient access to health care services, transparent and clear communication, and active involvement in decision-making regarding their health.
AHRQ lists eight individual categories of what constitutes the patient experience: culturally appropriate care, care coordination, courtesy and respect, access, communication with clinicians, getting information, shared decision-making, and self-management support.
Meanwhile, technological advancements have led to an increased expectation for digital health solutions, telemedicine, and seamless integration of health care services. Patients now expect a more holistic approach to their care, with an emphasis on wellness, prevention, and the management of chronic conditions.
Strategies for meeting patient expectations
In this environment, health care organizations can focus on three core strategies to help clinical teams meet patient expectations.
Optimized processes and workflows
By streamlining processes and reducing inefficiencies, medical staff can spend more time interacting with patients on a one-to-one basis, ultimately enhancing the patient experience.
Optimizing patient workflow involves removing inefficiencies to decrease throughput and improve patient flow across hospital units. By addressing bottlenecks and productivity drains that impact care transitions, medical staff can spend more time interacting with patients, providing quality care, and improving resource utilization.
Meanwhile, health technology embedded into clinical workflows can standardize clinician decision-making processes, provide evidence-based information at the point-of-care, automate administrative processes, alleviate clinician and staff burdens, and help personalize care decisions.
All of these can lead to more connected patient experiences and improve clinical time spent with patients across the continuum of care.
Technology to support a connected patient experience
Technology plays a pivotal role in fostering a more connected patient care journey. The strategic integration of various technological solutions has the potential to optimize patient experience, improve satisfaction, and enhance overall care delivery.
Properly harnessed, these technologies can streamline communication, facilitate patient engagement, and improve the overall care journey by enabling patients, clinicians, and payers to maintain contact and share information quickly and consistently.
Additionally, the adoption of automated patient outreach, expansion of virtual care options, and hybrid options that blend in-facility and at-home services have been instrumental in meeting patient expectations and organizational goals.
It is important to note that while technology plays a crucial role in enhancing the patient experience, there are considerations to be mindful of. The overreliance on technology may favor only specific types of patients who are comfortable in and have access to a digital space. Therefore, a balanced approach that leverages technology while maintaining genuine interpersonal connections and addressing the digital divide is essential to ensure that the patient experience is inclusive and patient-centered.
Patient-centric billing/collections processes
Adopting a patient-centric mindset in billing involves treating patients as discerning individuals with unique needs and preferences. Doing so can significantly improve patient satisfaction by addressing the financial aspects of the patient experience, aligning with patient expectations, and fostering trust and loyalty.
Patient-centric billing processes prioritize clear and transparent communication regarding financial responsibilities, costs, and billing procedures. By providing upfront and readily accessible pricing information, health care organizations can meet patient expectations and improve transparency of patient obligations.
Additionally, leveraging the latest technology for unified, automated patient billing can simplify collections, maximize balance resolution, and help maintain peace of mind. Multi-channel collections platforms and time-of-service payment collection systems can improve efficiency, ease of use, and convenience for patients, ultimately contributing to a better overall experience.
Improved patient experience leads to better performance
In a comprehensive study conducted in 2017, a team of researchers delved into the data of almost 20,000 patient admissions across 3,767 hospitals over six years. Using information from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, the study firmly established the relationship between patient experience and key financial metrics: net patient revenue, net income, and operating margin.
The findings were striking: hospitals that provided a more positive patient experience saw a notable increase in profitability. Conversely, and perhaps more importantly, those with negative patient experiences faced a significantly greater decline in profitability.
While patients’ expectations have changed in the years since the study, the fundamental takeaway still applies. Health care organizations cannot afford to not meet patients’ expectations.
Addressing those expectations impacts not just patient satisfaction, but also care delivery and overall health care outcomes. Knowing and understanding what patients expect when they walk into a care setting is indispensable in moving toward patient-centered care. Learn more about how to connect with patients and improve the patient experience.