The days of securing a patient after one visit to your office are long gone.
Today’s independent practices must focus on all aspects of the patient experience to ensure patients leave their appointments happy and satisfied. These patients are more likely to return, recommend you to their friends and family, and leave positive online reviews for your practice.
This is good for you and your bottom line.
But satisfying patients goes beyond care delivery. More and more patients expect the same swift and efficient services from healthcare providers as they receive for the rest of their on-demand lives — including digital interactions, self-service, and hassle-free communications (more on this later).
This is easier said than done: Independent practices face high turnover and rampant burnout in the healthcare industry. And Covid is not exclusively to blame; A 2021 report by Medscape that 79% of physicians feeling burned out said their burnout started before the pandemic.
As a result, more and more practice owners and managers are turning to technology to grow revenue without burdening already taxed staff.
In this article, we look closer at the patient experience, providing an in-depth overview of what it is and why it’s important, while sharing actionable ways technology can help your practice.
What is the patient experience?
The patient experience is the sum of all services and interactions of a patient throughout the patient’s lifecycle, beginning with research and consideration and extending to post-appointment activities. It can be viewed as an ongoing loop of access, communication, and feedback between your practice and your patients.
Your practice’s patient experience is tied directly to practice revenue, growth, and patient retention and is informed by online presence, care delivery, practice operations, communication, and office ambiance, among other factors.
The difference between patient experience, patient satisfaction, and patient engagement
It’s easy to think of patient experience, patient satisfaction, and patient engagement as a version of the same idea.
If patients leave their visit feeling content and as though the practice met their needs, they’re likely to have had a great experience, feel satisfied, and be engaged. But while closely tied, patient experience, satisfaction, and engagement are separate entities with their own influence and effects.
The patient experience is about how the patient perceives their care along the entire patient journey across multiple touchpoints.
It encompasses everything from the ease of booking an appointment, to the quality of care a patient receives, to follow-up care and payment. It’s shaped by the technology a practice uses and informed by the practice’s culture. The patient experience is objective.
The term patient satisfaction is about how well patients feel a practice satisfies their expectations and needs and is subjective.
For example, the ability to book an appointment online is part of the patient experience; whether or not your practice offers online booking is an objective fact. Yet the ease of booking an appointment online would be a measure of patient satisfaction. It is a subjective opinion.
Patient engagement, the degree to which an individual is invested in and knowledgeable about their health and healthcare, is influenced by both patient experience and satisfaction.
Practices can help boost engagement by helping patients be equipped, enabled, and empowered regarding their health.
A great patient experience can lead to higher patient engagement, which means patients are more likely to seek medical care when needed (support revenue!), stick to healthcare plans, and remain with your practice.
Why is the patient experience important?
Not so long ago, providing excellent care in a friendly atmosphere was enough to create a recurring patient — sometimes even for life.
Today, patients expect speedy and efficient services, convenient communication, and online access to request their records, lab results, and prescription refills.
People are after a first-class patient experience, and practices that wish to retain current clients and attract new ones must evolve their services and technology to keep pace.
According to a 2022 survey by Tebra, 3 out of 4 patients would leave their current provider after a poor experience, and more than half would leave over slow or no responses to questions or concerns and poor experience with office staff.
Further accelerating the need for superb patient experiences is the ever-rising cost of healthcare. With many people selecting high-deductible plans and paying more than ever for healthcare services, they expect an experience to match.
Fortunately, serving up an exceptional, accessible patient experience doesn’t just benefit the patient. Practices stand to benefit from a host of positive outcomes.
How excellent patient experiences help your practice:
1. Attract and retain patients: A consistent and positive patient experience keeps patients returning and helps your practice attract new ones. Individuals who receive a positive patient experience are more likely to become advocates for your practices.
By following up visits with a quick post-service patient experience survey and expressing the importance of online reviews, your practice actively supports patients in doing so. Simply asking for feedback goes far: patients asked to write a review are 2.3x more likely to leave a review than those who are not asked, according to a 2021 survey by PatientPop, a Tebra company.
2. Support revenue and practice growth: Patient experience affects patient engagement, which can keep patients returning to the office regularly. During tough financial times, people often put off going to the doctor for routine visits.
Good patient engagement, which results from consistently good patient experiences and helpful communications, such as reminders to make appointments, can encourage patients to continue seeking medical care.
3. Improve online reputation through Google Business reviews: Online reviews are the new word of mouth, and an excellent patient experience encourages patients to share theirs with others. When choosing a healthcare provider, 75% of patients find online reviews “very or extremely important,” and 56% of people won’t visit a healthcare professional with less than an average 4-star review, according to a survey by PatientPop, a Tebra company.
4. Improve health outcomes: Providing an excellent patient experience can boost patient engagement, which leads to better health outcomes.
What patients really want from the patient experience
Patients will always expect quality care, friendly service, and a comfortable and hospitable waiting room.
But today, patients increasingly expect digital access tools and services from their healthcare providers. Practices that wish to remain competitive must provide an experience aligned with the on-demand, consumer-grade services people assume today. When it comes to the patient experience, here’s what patients are after.
An easy-to-find web presence
Most new patients will find your business online. According to a 2022 survey, half of patients said that a practice’s website is “very or extremely important” when choosing a healthcare provider.
A cohesive, on-brand, presence across your website, social media accounts, and provider profile on websites is essential. Ensure a user-friendly website with original photography and information about the services your practice provides to help Google better rank your website, and allow patients to more easily find you.
Digital access tools
When it comes to digital access tools, according to a 2022 patient experience survey by PatientPop, a Tebra company, patients most want:
1. Text message reminders: The large majority of patients (67%) want to receive text messages — specifically for appointment-related reminders.
2. Digital patient intake forms: 62% of patients want a digital way to complete registration and fill out other forms. Making pre-visit forms available online, via email or text, or through a patient portal lets patients complete them ahead of time and can cut their wait time upon arrival at the office.
3. The ability to make online payments: Online payments are customary for just about everything today. So it’s no surprise that more than 51% of patients preferred a digital option for paying their bill.
4. Access to patient portals: 46% of patients want to be contacted through their patient portal, according to a 2021 survey by PatientPop A patient portal also lessens the administrative burden on your front office team by providing core capabilities, like the ability to request prescription refills, update insurance, and schedule future appointments.
Thoughtful providers who listen well: As you know from your long-time patients, patients prioritize thoughtful, personalized healthcare providers who make them feel seen and heard. Digital access tools are essential to supporting scalable practice growth and function as a necessary add-on to excellent care. Still, at the end of the day, the in-person care experience remains the most important aspect of the patient experience.
Forty-four percent of patients surveyed in the 2022 Patient Experience survey by PatientPop, a Tebra company, say they would switch practices for a provider who was a good listener.
How to identify patient experience touchpoints
With so many touchpoints across the patient experience today, practices must be methodical in their approach to improving patient experience. Taking the perspective of the patient to empathize with their journey is an essential first step in doing so.
By breaking the patient journey into a few different categories, practices can make this process more manageable.
Begin by mapping the patient journey and consider the touchpoints a patient would have at each.
Grab a piece of paper and pen and write out what a typical patient journey at your practice looks like, then cluster touchpoints associated with each step.
For example, a typical patient journey looks something like this, with various touchpoints for each step of the journey provided as examples.
1. Search: Google, website, social media.
2. Consideration: Website, Google Business reviews, and other online directories.
3. Conversion: Book an appointment via the website, call the office and text practices to make an appointment.
4. Pre-appointment: Pre-visit paperwork, check-in.
5. Virtual or in-person visit: Waiting room, medical care, services received, exam room.
6. Post-appointment: Communicating with the doctor, requesting prescription refills, requesting referrals, asking questions, payment.
7. Advocacy: Completing a survey to provide feedback.
Once you’ve identified patient experience touchpoints, strategizing actionable ways to improve the patient experience at each step is easier.
How to improve the patient experience
To evolve to meet customers’ expectations, independent practices must be attuned to what patients want and need — and respond to them. Easy ways to improve the patient experience include:
Offer online scheduling
After a prospective client has researched providers, reviewed your website, and decided to book an appointment, online scheduling is a key step in supporting the streamlined and expected customer flow that e-commerce has made mainstream. This benefits practices, too, lightening the administrative role for already over-taxed office staff.
Allow for digital check-in
A KLAS 2022 study found that appointment registration/check-in is the most desirable digital patient feature — and has one of the lowest provider adoption rates. Yet it can help the patient experience flow faster and creates efficiencies at the front desk.
Enable text messaging communication
The large majority of patients prefer text messaging to any other outreach strategy. Sixty-seven percent of patients want to receive text message appointment reminders, and 51% of patients want to receive text message reminders to book upcoming appointments. Use a platform that enables two-way communication, so patients can request prescription refills, make appointments, and ask questions easily.
Patient experience surveys are an excellent way to spot blind spots and correct them. They’re also vital in letting patients know their feedback is valuable. With the business of healthcare fast becoming the business of customer service, simply asking patients what they’re missing or would like goes a long way in delivering on their expectations.
Respond to online reviews
A responsive, attentive online presence conveys the same about your brick-and-mortar practice. Medical and dental practices should respond to every review, positive or negative. Doing so makes the reviewer feel heard and shows prospective patients you care enough to attend to patient feedback.
Negative online reviews are especially important to respond to; Sixty-four percent of patients who have left negative reviews said they would return to a practice if the practice responded to their complaint. Avoid apologizing, which can be considered an admission of guilt — especially with a care-related complaint. Instead, it’s best to politely acknowledge the reviewer and ask them to contact your practice privately about the matter.
Keep wait times to a minimum
There are few things more aggravating for a patient than a long wait time. Patients quickly grow annoyed, feeling that the practice is not respecting their time. Visits do run over, and that’s OK — sometimes. Work to keep wait times to a minimum, and most importantly, keep patients in the loop. If you know the provider is running late, send patients a text or place a call to let them know.
As an independent practice, you’ve always put your patients first. Today, that means providing the same one-click digital accessibility and ease people have come to expect in their day-to-day lives.
Practices that can pivot toward automated, technology-enabled communication and services provide the self-service patients crave while lessening the workload of office staff — a win for all.