Why patient experience matters – and how to improve it

Move over patient engagement: A positive patient experience is the new imperative for health systems that recognize the value of customer satisfaction.
By John P. Donohue
09:22 AM

Hospitals and healthcare organizations have been developing patient-engagement strategies for decades, if not longer. Traditionally, the patient experience has been important, but clinical outcomes have been the main measure for the effectiveness of an organization’s capabilities. 

The sands are now starting to shift. The patient experience is showing up as a top priority for most healthcare CEOs. So what has changed that is pushing the envelope on creating new transformational activities around exceptional patient experience?

Consumer demand is the driving force

Patient expectations regarding their "experience" have changed dramatically in the last several years. This is not to say that clinical outcomes will be less important, but now patients are looking for exceptional engagement and experiences to tie in with the strong clinical outcomes. 

In my opinion, there are a few drivers for this shift. First, most patients have become more digital-centric and self-reliant with technology. Most patients now carry smart phones and have WiFi networks set up at their homes. The use of the internet has become commonplace.

Learning from other industries

Probably more important though, is that other industries are demonstrating how they can improve the "customer" experience dramatically with digital engagement strategies. Banks are a great example. I can’t remember the last time I walked into my local bank branch and conducted a manual transaction. 

Almost everything that I do with my bank now, I do with an application on my smartphone. The best part is that I can do it from almost anywhere and at almost any time of the day – and I can do it securely. Banks have figured out a way to dramatically improve my customer experience and make it a game changer. If I had to change banks, I would not even consider one that did not have these "table stake" capabilities. 

Experts in the healthcare space suggest that in the next few years, healthcare consumers will begin to use their experiences to drive the purchasing decisions. This leaves a small window for organizations that have not already been planning and budgeting for the necessary transformation work to occur. 

Most organizations are going to need to accelerate their activities in order to be viewed as leaders of the pack or at least competitive among peer organizations.

Where to start

Most organizations have already started to think about their patients as customers. This is step one. Now, it’s important to begin to leverage your technology investments to address immediate needs and also be a platform for more effective engagement and experience strategies. As healthcare is one of the fastest growing markets today, organizations must find a way to use these technology investments as a catalyst to drive the transformation work.

Personalization and convenience 

Many organizations have developed patient portals that tie into their EHR systems. These portals allow for appointment scheduling, online bill-paying, communicating with care teams, storing test results, etc. Some now even allow for on demand scheduling with a provider via telemedicine capabilities.

These are all good starting points, but organizations should be considering features like chatbot technologies, machine learning and artificial intelligence to get a start on the next wave of capabilities that will further improve the patient experience.

This is a good time to look to partner with companies that are agile and can help you jump-start your strategies and initiatives. Also, look to learn from the mistakes of your competitors! 

In my opinion, technology is ultimately going to enable the best patient experiences. Look for ways to implement these technologies in new facilities that you are building and then look for ways to integrate them back into your legacy facilities.

Remember to focus on personalization and convenience as you roll out your new capabilities. As IT professionals and leaders, we are in a position to really help transform the way that patients, as customers, engage with our organizations.

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