How to Improve the Patient Experience—Before the Appointment

Like most providers, you care about your patients’ experience. Happier patients mean fewer complaints, better online reviews, and higher CAHPS scores. Not only that, but a better patient experience—one that leads to higher patient satisfaction—correlates with better clinical outcomes.

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In a market where reimbursement is increasingly value-based, providers with better outcomes, higher patient satisfaction, and lower costs (i.e. fewer readmissions) are the ones who will survive and thrive.

The Business Case for a Better Patient Experience

Increasing deductibles and higher out-of-pocket payments mean patients are becoming choosier about where they receive care and who they receive it from. Patients are now savvy consumers who are often seeking a memorable experience—not just medical care. If you want patients to choose your practice from a crowded field, or recommend your facility to others, you can’t simply satisfy them—you must impress them. Improving the patient experience is a way to attract and retain loyal patients who can contribute significantly to your organization’s bottom line.

The patient experience—and opportunities to increase patient satisfaction—doesn’t begin when your patients arrive for their appointments. It begins much sooner than that, when a patient first visits your website or calls your office for information. Luckily, there are numerous ways you can craft a better patient experience, before patients even set foot in your facility.

The Role of Communication

Frequent, clear communication is one of the most important factors contributing to a positive patient experience and higher patient satisfaction. Opportunities for communication occur early in the patient journey. For example, appointment scheduling is one of the first chances you’ll have to interact with a patient. The ease of your appointment scheduling process can determine whether the patient relationship starts off on the right foot, or whether you’re immediately on the back foot.

If your facility doesn’t already offer online appointment scheduling, now is the time to consider it. Why? Approximately 80 percent of patients prefer a physician who offers online scheduling, according to a 2017 study. And it’s not only your patients who will benefit. Online scheduling can free up front desk staff time, allowing them to fully concentrate on the patients in front of them—not the ones on the phone.

After a patient schedules their appointment (either online or over the phone), make use of automated reminders to keep the communication flowing. Text message (or email) appointment reminders free staff from administrative tasks, while also limiting the no-shows that are hurting your facility’s bottom line. Statistics vary, but data shows that text message open rates are as high as 98 percent.

Increase Access to Patient Care

When you make patient safety a priority, it increases trust between patients and providers, and reduces patient stress and worry. Part of that is ensuring patients get the care they need, when and where they need it. When you keep patients waiting longer than necessary—in their opinion, not yours—it erodes that trust and increases patient anxiety about their condition. Trust is a building block of the patient experience, and there are opportunities to build that trust before a patient arrives at your facility.

For facilities that handle walk-in traffic, virtual queuing—allowing the patient to reserve their place in line—can decrease both overall wait times and lobby congestion. If your facility has multiple locations, patients can also view wait times for each location, choosing the option that is most convenient for them. For your facility, virtual queuing can alert staff to incoming volume. This offers you a way to allocate staff and other resources when and where they’re needed the most.