Today’s healthcare industry is increasingly consumer-driven. Digitally-empowered patients search online for the best health care options and compare reviews on various sites, choosing providers based on the vast amount of information available. These digital-first behaviors have resulted in an increasingly competitive marketplace, and patient satisfaction is now as relevant in healthcare as it is in more traditional consumer-oriented industries.
Customer satisfaction is defined as the extent to which customers are happy with their overall experience; the same is true for healthcare patients, and the “patient experience” is now a core metric for organizations in the sector. As patient-centered care gains traction, it is becoming an important part of healthcare organizations’ strategic plans. And though patient satisfaction encompasses a patient’s quality of care, it also hinges on their expectations of service, as well.
While patient satisfaction is a subjective metric, organizations must have a patient experience strategy in place for several reasons:
The consumerization of healthcare means that patient satisfaction is a competitive differentiator in a crowded marketplace.
Patient satisfaction is widely accepted as a proxy for assessing healthcare provider performance.
Patient satisfaction plays a role in the U.S. federal government’s Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program (VBP).
Instituted as part of the Affordable Care Act, the Hospital VBP Program rewards acute care hospitals with incentive payments for the quality of care that they provide to patients with Medicare, rather than the quantity of care. Under this value-based reimbursement system, patient satisfaction is measured through the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey (HCAHPS). With the HCAHPS, the federal government is encouraging healthcare organizations to move towards patient-centered care and value-based care.
However, the shift towards a more robust organizational focus on patient satisfaction will also require a more strategic use of technology to improve the overall patient experience. The organizations best positioned to thrive in today’s healthcare environment are those that effectively integrate technology into both their patient engagement strategy and operational framework. That means leveraging technology for everything from administrative functions to clinical decisions and research. Below, we will share five areas where technology can most effectively improve patient engagement, satisfaction, and healthcare outcomes.
1. Streamline administrative processes that frustrate patients
Consumers expect seamless experiences in all areas of their lives, and healthcare is no exception. After all, when everything else is available with the touch of a button, why shouldn’t a patient’s healthcare services be as well?
Currently, many providers fail to provide high-quality patient experiences. A 2019 study on healthcare consumers found that nearly half of patients expressed frustration with their current provider’s digital administration processes, including appointment scheduling, online bill payments, and access to insurance information. Tellingly, the percentages skewed dramatically by age. Nearly two-thirds of 18 to 24 year olds expressed unhappiness with digital healthcare practices, while just 29% of those older than 65 reported the same dissatisfaction. Overall, 20% of respondents said that they dropped a previous healthcare provider because of poor digital patient engagement, and almost half said that they’d consider switching to a provider who offered better digital patient engagement.
Perhaps most interestingly, the stats above were not tied to quality of care. When asked to name the worst part of their patient experience, just 17% of patients in the study stated interactions with doctors and staff, while 83% of patients cited pre- and post-visit administrative tasks.
With the growing consumerization of healthcare, it’s clear that patients desire comprehensive patient experiences that extend beyond health outcomes alone. As digital natives mature into an even larger segment of the consumer population, it’s likely that this trend will continue. This reality makes it crucial for healthcare organizations to invest in technology like mHealth Apps and online patient portals that create better patient experiences. Ultimately, booking and paying for a medical appointment should be as simple as calling an Uber.
2. Leverage virtual technology to improve patient experiences
Just as consumers expect quick and easy access to administrative functions, they also expect quick and easy access to care. In fact, 70% of consumers report that they delay booking healthcare appointments in part because seeing a doctor simply takes too long.
In 2017, the average wait time in a clinical practice was 20 minutes, and though that doesn’t seem excessive, when combined with travel time and actual appointment time, it’s enough to negatively impact patient satisfaction. The impact of long waiting room delays go beyond customer frustrations about wasted time. For example, PwC found that long wait times also affect confidence in the care provider and a patient’s perceived quality of care.
Telehealth’s virtual doctor visits offer a modern antidote to this issue. For example, Massachusetts General Hospital, which treats over 1.5 million patients per year, found that Telehealth drove significant increases in patient satisfaction. Consumers appreciated the convenience and the quality of care and communication, resulting in 68% of telemedicine patients rating their visit a nine or ten on a ten-point satisfaction scale, 79% reporting that it was easier to schedule a convenient appointment time, and 83% saying that the quality of care was the same or better than an in-person visit.
For healthcare organizations seeking to improve the patient experience, telemedicine provides a proven avenue to explore.
3. Enhance clinical and operational decision-making with healthcare analytics
Healthcare analytics affect all parts of the healthcare system and can dramatically improve patient satisfaction in two key areas: operational efficiency and clinical decision-making.
Operationally, healthcare organizations, particularly large hospital systems, face many of the same challenges associated with other consumer-oriented industries. They are comprised of hundreds of workflows, including admissions, medication processes, and provider documentation. If one workflow breaks down, delays spread throughout the system, creating confusion and stress that negatively impacts patient outcomes and satisfaction.
Predictive analytics can help workflow challenges by forecasting evolving resource needs in real-time, adjusting staff schedules, and streamlining patient admittance and discharge processes. When properly deployed, healthcare analytics can lower costs, reduce wait times, and improve the overall patient experience.
In a clinical setting, Big Data enables more personalized care and accelerates medical diagnoses. Assisted by data-driven clinical decision support systems (CDSS), physicians can optimize recommendations and medical decisions to the individual. In complex situations in which a patient is suffering from multiple ailments, analytics can also alert doctors if a procedure to alleviate one symptom may cause another to worsen.
Additionally, machine learning algorithms increase the speed and accuracy of medical diagnoses. For example, at the Mayo Clinic, artificial intelligence cut the amount of time needed to diagnose a stroke by 30 minutes, a significant improvement in an emergency situation when every second counts. And though the IT challenge of deploying these tools may seem daunting, Google Cloud offers managed data capabilities that enable any organization to deploy analytics and machine learning engines to their patient data.
4. Improve Communication and Coordination of Care with “Patient Relationship Management Platforms”
The modern healthcare experience has a rapidly expanding number of touchpoints and data inputs, creating a patient journey that is more complicated, but also creates more data, than ever before. A recent International Data Corporation report predicts a 36% growth rate for healthcare data over the next five years, which is faster than any other industry. While more data can improve the quality of care and thus patient satisfaction, more information is beneficial only to the extent that it is used in clinical settings. Thus, healthcare organizations now require effective data management tools to capture patient data with the goal of improving the coordination of care and patient-centered outcomes.
Given this evolving need to capture, organize, and leverage patient data, healthcare organizations are turning to patient relationship management (PRM) platforms to help craft a more holistic patient profile. These tools bring together the totality of patient information, including medical history and socioeconomic status, so providers have access to as much data as possible during diagnosis and treatment. PRMs enable shared decision-making, because physicians and staff better understand the total environment in which their medical recommendations exist. For example, whether a patient has access to healthy food may impact a treatment plan for a diabetes diagnosis.
For large organizations that offer everything from primary care to in-home nursing, PRM tools are an effective way to provide the quality of care that patients increasingly expect, as concepts like patient-centered outcomes and family-centered care enter mainstream consciousness.
5. Enhance Patient Experience Using In-Room Tablets and Smart Displays
Patient engagement during in-patient stays is an underappreciated factor in the patient experience. In healthcare environments, technology can improve the patient experience by offering many of the same amenities that consumers use at home.
Smart TVs and tablets, for example, provide access to educational materials about a surgical procedure or discharge/aftercare instructions. Patients can also access their own health information through apps like mHealth apps. Together, these uses of everyday technology can engage patients in their own care, resulting in measurably improved outcomes.
Virtual assistants are also entering hospital rooms as another tool to engage patients. At Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, Amazon Echos allow patients to control televisions and play music. More importantly, patients can summon nurses by saying, “Alexa, tell my nurse I need...”
These patient engagement solutions are just a few of the many ways that technology is revolutionizing the healthcare patient experience.
Patient satisfaction is a metric for healthcare quality that will likely remain. However, as concepts like family-centered care and patient-centered outcomes become more widely known—which at their core simply mean a focus on the patient as an individual—the opportunities to leverage digital tools and technologies to better serve more personalized, human-centric needs will also grow.
At Sutherland, we believe that consumers have pushed the healthcare industry to modernize and embrace technologies that improve the overall patient experience, and it’s up to organizations to meet that demand. In the end, healthcare is no different than any other industry that is being disrupted by cutting-edge technologies. The organizations that will be the most successful in the future are those that invest in meeting patient expectations to create seamless, modern healthcare experiences.