How health systems can build lifelong relationships with patients

Just like McDonald’s strives for speedy service and Marriott cultivates a sense of luxury, every industry today is focused on the “customer experience.” Healthcare is no exception. Today’s patients are savvier than ever, approaching healthcare like any other consumer service. While the experience of being a patient isn’t like ordering fries or booking a hotel stay, the core principle remains the same: positive experiences lead to loyalty.

This shift toward consumer-driven healthcare creates a critical need for healthcare providers to prioritize patient experience as a key factor for success. The quality of the experience patients receive can also become a differentiator in healthcare. Studies even show a link between positive patient experiences and higher profitability for hospitals.

Patient experience linked to hospital performance

This focus on patient experience isn’t new, either. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Medicare has increasingly rewarded hospitals with better patient satisfaction scores through financial incentives. These scores consider everything from doctor communication to nighttime noise levels, highlighting how important patient experience is to performance.

Failing to meet patient expectations is a recipe for losing them to competitors. By investing in a patient-centered approach, healthcare providers can not only retain patients within their networks but also attract new ones seeking an exceptional experience alongside quality medical care.

Let’s explore how to improve network performance through positive patient experiences.

Technology as the first step to a positive patient experience

In today’s digital world, patients expect technology to enhance their healthcare journey. Investing in digital solutions shows a commitment to convenience, efficiency, and patient-centered care. Here’s how technology can make a difference:

  • Pre-visit convenience: Online portals that streamline scheduling, pre-registration, and wayfinding tools make it easy to engage with your practice even before a patient enters your door. Consider implementing features like virtual check-in and appointment reminders to offer convenience.
  • Patient empowerment: Interactive tools in the patient room put critical information and resources at patients’ fingertips. Features like on-demand educational videos, communication platforms, and entertainment options give patients a greater sense of control and reduce anxiety.
  • Beyond the walls: Telehealth and virtual consultations extend care beyond traditional settings. These tools can improve access, particularly for follow-up care, chronic disease management, and addressing concerns outside of regular appointment hours.

The essential ingredient: bedside manner

Technology and amenities can’t replace compassionate human interaction. While seemingly a simple concept, excellent bedside manner remains a cornerstone of patient satisfaction. Good bedside manner is also linked to greater compliance with treatment regimens and can be a catalyst for patient loyalty and network retention. Health systems and providers should focus on the following:

  • Empathy and compassion: Train staff at all levels, from administrative to clinical, on active listening, effective communication, and empathy. Patients often remember how healthcare professionals made them feel more than the technical aspects of their care.
  • Patient-centered communication: Take the time to explain diagnoses, procedures, and treatment options in clear, compassionate language. Encourage patients to ask questions, address their concerns, and actively participate in their health decisions.
  • Cultural sensitivity: Promote cultural competence and sensitivity training for staff to provide patient-centered care to diverse patient populations. Acknowledging and addressing cultural considerations can build trust within the patient-provider relationship.

Creating a comforting atmosphere

The physical environment of your facility also impacts the patient experience, including patients’ perceptions of care. While comfort may not seem directly linked to network utilization, remember that patients are more likely to choose providers who prioritize well-being in all its forms.

  • Comfort and design: Comfortable waiting areas, private patient rooms with natural light, and nice decor can improve patients’ overall perceptions of care. Investing in these amenities sends a message that prioritizes patient well-being throughout their care journey.
  • Personalized touch: Small gestures such as offering blankets, a selection of beverages, and curated entertainment options can enhance the patient experience and make them feel cared for and valued.
  • The sensory factor: Pay attention to noise levels, lighting, and even calming scents to create a soothing ambiance. A good acoustic environment has been linked to higher patient satisfaction. In contrast, excessive noise can elevate blood pressure, disrupt sleep, and contribute to overall stress.

Shift to family-centric care

Traditionally, healthcare has focused on the individual patient. However, a growing trend recognizes the importance of family and caregivers as integral parts of the care journey. By shifting towards a family-centric model, you can enhance the overall patient experience and, by extension, strengthen patient loyalty and retention.

  • Involve caregivers: Encourage patients to include family members or caregivers in their care, facilitating a shared understanding of treatment plans and support structure at home. This can lead to improved medication adherence, better follow-up, and reduced anxiety for patients and their loved ones.
  • Communication is key: Establish open lines of communication with family members, with the patient’s consent, to keep them informed of progress and address any questions or concerns.
  • Support resources: Provide educational materials and resources for caregivers to equip them for their supporting role. Consider connecting them with support groups or other helpful resources to foster a sense of confidence in their ability to provide care.

The benefits of an exceptional patient experience

Prioritizing patient experience is not a mere marketing strategy. It has tangible benefits that translate into success for your practice or healthcare organization, including:

  • Increased network utilization: Satisfied patients are more likely to stay within your network for future healthcare needs, improving patient retention. This promotes the efficient use of resources and helps safeguard the financial health of your practice.
  • Reduced patient leakage: When patients feel valued and have positive experiences, they are less likely to seek care from out-of-network providers, reducing patient leakage.
  • Positive word-of-mouth: Happy patients will often recommend your practice to friends, family, and online communities. This organic marketing strategy is extremely valuable, boosting your reputation and attracting new patients.
  • Enhanced quality of care: A patient-centered approach can improve patient engagement and participation in their care, potentially leading to improved outcomes.

Gathering feedback and taking action

Enhancing the patient experience to improve network performance is an ongoing process. Here’s how to get started:

  • Gather feedback: Implement patient satisfaction surveys and gather feedback through informal channels like conversations with staff and online reviews.
  • Analyze and identify gaps: Analyze feedback to pinpoint areas for improvement and prioritize them based on feasibility and potential impact.
  • Implement and adapt: Develop targeted strategies to enhance patient experience and grow your business, whether through technology implementation, staff training, or amenities improvement. Be open to adapting your approach based on ongoing feedback.

What it all means

Today’s elevated focus on the patient experience extends beyond providing quality care; it encompasses every touchpoint in the patient journey, from scheduling appointments to post-treatment follow-up. Invest in building positive relationships, providing exceptional care, and fostering a patient-centered atmosphere at every level to reap the rewards of increased network utilization, reduced patient leakage, and overall success in your healthcare practice.

Want to gain insights into patient journeys and outcomes to deliver better care, improve patient satisfaction, and achieve sustainable growth? Start your free trial of Definitive Healthcare today.