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Don’t Fall into the Patient Experience Gap

Andrea Ryan
September 12, 2021

“Patients don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.” This is a quote from Dr. Peter Pronovost and it rings true for the patient experience in healthcare today. The patient experience has become such an important part of running a successful therapy business, but there seems to be a disconnect between what providers think their clients feel about their practice and what patients actually feel. We’ll explore this communication chasm between providers and patients and look at some ways to bridge the gap in this post.

In my experience talking with providers, it seems that much of the disconnect comes down to patient experience vs. patient satisfaction. Sometimes providers think these two terms mean the same thing, but they are wrong. Patient satisfaction refers to whether or not a patient’s expectations were met during their visit. Patient experience refers to whether or not something that the patient believes should happen in a health care setting (such as clear communication with a provider) actually happened. Many therapy and medical clinics score well in the area of patient satisfaction, but when patients are asked about their experience only 65% give a favorable rating. By contrast, when providers were asked to estimate what their patients would say about their patient experience they guessed that they would receive a 90% positive rating. This difference is considerable, but by understanding the difference and using a few simple steps to improve patient experience, many therapists could easily make sure that their patients have a positive experience every time.

First, it is important to consider the Patient Experience as a process not an event. It’s about how patients feel throughout their entire treatment journey and includes all of those moments where there should be human connection. This means that every interaction with your staff really matters even down to the way phones are answered, the efficiency of the patient intake process or the ease of final billing. Oftentimes, therapists and doctors think that the patient experience is limited to the time they spend in a treatment room with them, or even the time the patient is with staff in the waiting room, but the truth of the matter is that patient experience begins much sooner. The impression a practice makes with a patient begins at the first moment they call or look up a new provider on the internet and extends until the final bill of the last treatment from that provider.  Patient experience can be measured by the patient’s comfort with their care, how likely they are to recommend that therapist or doctor to others and whether or not patients intend on returning for future appointments. Patient Experience is all about creating a relationship between your staff members and your clients that is productive, safe and effective.

Patient Experience prior to Visit

Before a new patient walks through the doors of your clinic, they first begin to experience your practice through the phone conversations they have with your staff, or in recent years with the time they spend on your clinic website.  

Patient experience begins on the phone. Patient happiness has been shown to be directly correlated with how well your staff members answer their questions and handle any concerns they have before a visit.

In addition, patients who spend time researching your clinic online are likewise forming an impression of what it will be like when they come in for that first appointment. Many therapists view their websites as an online business card, but in recent years as the population has become more and more tech savvy it has become increasingly important for providers to host a quality web presence that can provide new and returning patients with tools like online forms, scheduling options, secure records and other parts of their patient journey which can make their experience with your office much more convenient for them. 

Patient experience in the office

In office patient experience

Earlier it was discussed that the patient experience extends beyond the treatment room, and while this is certainly true there is no denying that a large part of meeting the expectations of a patient includes a smooth office visit. Keeping wait times low, in an inviting waiting room is essential. A friendly and knowledgeable staff who is well equipped with technology that makes their patient processing easier and faster can be invaluable. And that’s all before a patient even begins treatment. 

Providers should be asking themselves what it will feel like for a patient when they sit down in an exam room, whether that means being seen almost immediately after arriving or having to wait much longer than expected. Are there things you can do as an office manager or provider to make sure this experience matches at least some of the expectations your patient may have. There are many ways providers can improve upon these experiences. 

By keeping an accurate and well organized scheduling system, providers can be confident they are able to be with each patient the allotted amount of time so that no one is left waiting in a room for lengthy periods of time. Another way providers can ensure that their patients leave pleased with their office visit is by having an EHR that is intuitive to their needs and allows for the therapist or doctor to spend most of their time in the treatment room caring for their patient’s needs. 

After the visit

Unsurprisingly, patients can have a wonderful personal experience with caregivers and staff and their entire impression of an office can be ruined by an adverse billing journey after the visit. There are many systems in place that can help a therapy office properly code treatment, verify pre-authorizations, and follow up with insurance upon completion of care so that patients don’t have to deal with their insurance provider. 

This is called revenue cycle management, and in the past RCM could be known to cause many headaches among both patients and front office staff. New technology makes it easier and more seamless than ever. Online forms can be easily double checked so there isn’t a discrepancy with paperwork. Providers are able to easily verify and code treatment that is already authorized by insurance providers with the click of a button, and final billing can be seamless for office managers because all documents are contained within the same system so there is no loss of information with transfer. And if all of this isn’t easy enough, there are services that are available to outsource all billing so that a therapy practice doesn’t need to deal with billing in any regard. 

If billing is handled accurately and efficiently, patients don’t have to deal with any issues or unexpected costs, and as a result their overall experience is dramatically improved.

How to find out how your patients feel about their experience

We have discussed that many providers aren’t fully aware that their patients aren’t having a positive experience in their office. So how do you know if you are already doing a great job, or if there is room for improvement in your practice?

Patient satisfaction surveys can be sent to your patient base through email or by printed out forms that you have available in your waiting room. This gives patients a chance to anonymously share how they feel about certain aspects of their care and treatment so you can have a better understanding of just how well your office is serving your client base.  Patient satisfaction surveys can also be helpful in identifying areas of improvement for your practice.

Think about the last time you went to a restaurant and decided not to go back because of poor service or an unsatisfying experience with your food. The same concept applies when referring patients: if they aren’t happy, don’t expect them to share their positive experiences on social media and recommend friends and family members to come see you! Patient feedback is very important from both business standpoints as well as patient safety perspectives .

Closing the gap of understanding that exists between patients and providers, and using the information you gather to improve aspects of your office can lead to not only retaining the patients you have but ultimately growing your business. With so many valuable tools on the market to streamline office management and patient care, improving your practice and bottom line is as simple as finding the holes in the patient experience and closing them. Take the time to show your patients you care, and your practice will benefit immensely.


Tags

client communication, Online Patient Forms


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