As patients, we’ve all been in this familiar setting—pens dangling helplessly off of clipboards, chairs with hard plastic arms, a continuous background symphony of ringing phones and elevator music. Here you sit, patiently waiting to see a clinician. Not all healthcare experiences are created equal. As an independent practice, how can you ensure patient satisfaction is alive and well in your practice?
From the moment patients first engage with your office until the moment they have completed check out, every single move (and minute) can be under scrutiny. Remembering what it feels like to be the patient and actually putting yourself in their shoes can be a valuable observational tool. This can help to identify areas of needed improvement in your practice. Trust me on this one, because when I’m not busy being a patient with a chronic illness, I’m also a nurse. Having been on both sides of healthcare frequently, it becomes easier to note the areas of healthcare practice that directly translate to overall patient satisfaction. Below, we will examine five common areas of patient concern and discontent. How does your practice measure up?
1. Wait Time
How long are patients typically expected to wait before seeing a provider at your practice? If back-ups and extended wait times are common, consider investigating the cause. While many assume a difficult or complex patient slows the system down, it serves your practice to look into the matter further. For example, smoothing the scheduling template and providing clinicians with appropriate blocks of time for each patient can prevent frequent delays.
Keeping patients abreast of increased wait times is crucial. When they are given updates they are more likely to feel in control and able to make necessary changes to their schedule for the day ahead. While you may be stuck at the office all day, your patient should not have to be. Consider how your wait times affect the remainder of their day, including potential issues with transportation, child care, medication/eating schedules, caregiver availability, etc. Many practices are looking into secure video visits to offer patients the convenience of seeing their provider from wherever they are.
2. Office Response Time
How are your patients discussing their needs outside of appointment requests? Many practices offer response either by some or all of the following methods: phone, email, online healthcare portal. In any case, a policy should be in place regarding response time. Providing patients with a reasonable estimate of return contact (e.g., within 48 hours) can help to put their mind at ease. This allows for providers to triage and prioritize while being transparent and honest about turnaround time.
Another area of important consideration surrounding external communications includes perceived ease of use on the patient end. If an online system is difficult to use or a patient can never get through via phone line, patient trust rapidly declines. Patients want to feel supported by their providers at all times, not just when they are present for an office visit. In many cases, patients are reaching out for important action items such as symptom management, medication issues, disability forms, questions regarding therapy, etc.
While accessible communication platforms are a preferred, easy to use method for several non-pressing issues, patients like to know they are able to contact an MD/NP/RN directly in case of an urgent matter. Do patients at your practice have access to this essential "lifeline"? Are patients made aware of contact methods upfront? For example, at the first visit it's beneficial to quickly outline ways to contact the office and which one to choose depending on the importance. Armed with this information, patients feel supported, connected and able to collaborate on their healthcare needs.
4. Time With Provider
Feeling rushed during an appointment with a healthcare provider is unacceptable to patients. Patient and provider time is equally valuable and should always be treated as such. After all, the patient is a paying customer. Customer satisfaction should be the ultimate goal for any business hoping to be stable and successful. In order to avoid rushing patients, consider allocating appropriate lengths of time based on anticipated needs and patient condition. Patients should be provided ample time for questions and summary at conclusion of visit. This also helps to ensure patient compliance with treatment plan, as they are given time to state their understanding and/or areas of concern. A sharp decline in patient satisfaction can occur if clients feel they are leaving your office feeling more confused than when they first arrived.
The patient is a paying customer. Customer satisfaction should be the ultimate goal for any business hoping to be stable and successful.
5. Check Out
While most offices strive to collect patient payments upon check in, this is not necessarily standard practice, although advised. This method can circumvent any issues of non-payment later. (See Kareo's free guide, Patient Collections Boot Camp, to learn more.) Along these lines, assessing the patient’s experience in these two areas will be key to improving patient satisfaction: patient payments and future scheduling.
Ease of payment and lack of billing errors are expected by patients. While mistakes are sometimes unavoidable in the complex system of insurance-based payor models, this is an area of increased frustration for patients. Additionally, having schedule openings for follow up appointments is a necessity. Once the patient has been seen in your office, the last thing they want to hear before leaving is that the first available appointment is in three months or more. Taking time to balance new patient intakes with provider availability can ensure existing patients are able to be seen again within a desired timeframe. You can also look into other care delivery methods like telemedicine that provide both the patient and provider more convenience for follow up care.
Addressing these five key areas of your practice takes time. However, you will find that your practice can run smoother if these issues are addressed properly. Patients are more likely to be happier with the level of care and service and be more inclined to return to and remain with your practice.