The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

How to improve the patient journey at your practice

Improve and optimize every step of the patient journey with these tips.

Medical practice owner reads about how to improve patient journey

At a Glance

  • The patient journey encompasses all interactions a patient has with a healthcare provider, from initial search to post-visit feedback. Analyzing it can reveal opportunities to improve care.
  • Practices should facilitate easy appointment booking, intake, payments, clinical documentation, and post-visit surveys to remove barriers and create better patient outcomes.
  • Rather than use piecemeal solutions for each step, practices should seek an integrated platform to optimize patient journeys, maximizing both patient satisfaction and return on investment.

Uncovering where your healthcare practice fails to meet your patients’ needs can seem like an intimidating task, but it doesn’t have to be. To get to greater patient satisfaction, the best place to start is the patient journey.

By examining each step of the patient journey, you can better assess and understand potential pain points. This allows for specific and big-picture improvements that can make all the difference in healthcare delivery.

Patient Perspectives Report

What is the patient journey?

The patient journey refers to the path patients take as they look for, receive, and assess services. This healthcare journey includes all of the interactions, procedures, and treatments a patient undergoes. New patients' journeys can extend from the moment they start seeking medical care until long after they are done receiving care. 

For modern patients, the journey includes digital search, online appointment scheduling, text messaging and other forms of technology to communicate with providers regarding appointments, intake, billing and payments, and post-appointment feedback.

Thinking in terms of the patient journey, which may be difficult and frightening, can help practices realize that patients want to feel deeply known, connected, and cared for. It’s also an opportunity to remove barriers to care and improve patient volume, whether you get them through the door physically or digitally. 

Optimizing the patient pathway also frees up providers’ time to better focus on those patients, reducing the large clinician burden rampant in the healthcare industry. In turn, improved clinical workflows result in more billable hours and greater well-being for both patients and providers. 

Mapping the patient journey

One of the primary ways to understand the whole patient experience is through a patient journey visualization called “mapping.” Use the following patient journey template as a starting point to examine how your patients navigate your practice.

The need for services 

The therapeutic journey begins long before a patient enters your office. Look at how clients find you. Some will use patient referrals, asking friends, relatives and coworkers for suggestions. Many will search online about their problem and possible solutions. Make sure to include a “How did you hear about us” section on any check-in form to gather this information.

Perform research on what potential patients are looking for. It could be convenience, location, or specialties. What different types of treatment or services are your patients seeking? Is there a significant amount starting treatment for the same condition? Note any commonalities, because this can affect your marketing strategy, which is simply a way to get more people to begin a patient journey with you.

Researching online

Once a patient has heard of you, the next step in the journey may be to learn more about your practice. Look at your website. Are your services explained clearly? Are your clinicians listed with their credentials and a confidence-inspiring photograph? How does your website compare with your competitors?

Patient recruitment is not like it used to be. Even if another provider referred you, patients will weigh your online reputation before scheduling.  We’ll get into patient feedback later on, but know that new patients look at and care about online reviews.

Scheduling 

Once they’ve decided to book, how can patients get in touch with your practice to schedule an appointment? Can they make an appointment from your website on their smartphones? Do they have to call the office during certain hours, limiting patient access.

One of the many modern patient expectations is the option for patient self-scheduling. This is usually done through the practice’s website or portal. Review your patient portal experience to see if it's smooth. 

Tip: Because patient records and other sensitive patient information will be input either into your site, maintain patient privacy with a secure HTTP.

Patient communication

Do your patients receive appointment reminders? If so, by what means? And what is the timing? Patient outreach can be diversified. The average patient may prefer text reminders over any other method, but email and phone calls remain useful, too.

Patient check-in

Before the appointment, how do you conduct patient check-in? Patient satisfaction is affected by wait times. If there’s an opportunity to cut down on a wait by inputting patient history pre-appointment, most people will jump on it. Make the world’s digital transformation work to your advantage.

Patient intake

The patient intake process can amount to more than half of your staff’s total facetime with a patient in a given visit. Make sure your clinical team is trained to be present, attentive, and compassionate when filling a patient’s chart. 

Clinical environment

This amounts to more than just the ambiance of the waiting room. Clinical environments include factors such as staffing and equipment. Do you offer the latest in healthcare technology? Is every bit of your facility clean and well organized? How easy is it to complete clinical documentation, order labs, and write prescriptions during the appointment? These answers affect both the team and the patient.

Billing

How do you manage billing? How do you manage payments and reminders about payments and balances? If patient registration into payment plans is convoluted or if they’re charged with hidden fees, that could prevent a patient from returning.

Ongoing care

The treatment journey can extend from your office or clinic to where the patient lives and even to another healthcare provider. Part of the duty of your practice is to offer supportive patient transitions across the care continuum.

The patient throughput to another office may feel like a loss, but if it improves patient health outcomes it still benefits your practice. And establishing good referral rapport with complementary clinics can lead to patient recruitment down the line.

Loyalty and referrals

How do you collect post-appointment feedback, surveys, and other patient input? How do you share patient feedback to build your practice’s reputation? Do you offer any patient focus groups? Are there any patient organizations articulating what they want out of practices like yours?If you don’t have a space to explicitly ask your clients for their more critical thoughts and opinions, you leave them little option but to leave negative online reviews. If you have existing ratings and reviews online, how do they reflect on your practice? Consider all reviews, good and bad, as patient data to compile and work with.

How to improve the patient journey 

Since the patient journey consists of a series of interlocking parts, improvements in one stage can affect patient outcomes the rest of the way. Here are several ways to improve things for your patients:

Optimize for search results

At the start of the modern patient journey, patients search for services online, but most practices have websites that don’t rank well in Google search results. To reach more patients, focus on local SEO, paid search advertising, and optimizing your website.

To reach more patients, focus on SEO, paid search advertising, and optimizing your website. ”

With artificial intelligence, SEO services have become more accessible and affordable but also more competitive. Many clinics produce blog articles and videos for their websites to stay relevant and achieve high rankings in the search results. Content can focus on patient education, covering new medical technology and treatments in an accessible way.

Boost your internet presence 

As they decide on a provider, patients read reviews online, browse your website, and view listings. It's important to regularly maintain your online reputation as well as your website.  According to Tebra research, 75% of patients find online reviews important when choosing a  healthcare provider. It’s essential to:

  • Gather positive reviews from patients when they are most likely to give them.
  • Make it easy for dissatisfied patients to give private feedback.
  • Respond promptly to both. 

To potential clients, reports about others' patient interactions show what they can expect from their doctor-patient relationship. So, you want to show your practice offers plenty of patient support. 

Make it easy to reach you 

After making a decision, patients will try to contact the office. Give them multiple channels to communicate. To capture more prospects and have better communication on both sides, implement missed-call-to-text, two-way text, and web-to-text. It's also very important to offer a mobile-optimized experience. Make sure your site allows for efficient patient navigation through smart phones.

Three out of 4 patients prefer to book appointments online, so provide online scheduling with a responsive layout on your website and your web profiles to make it easier.

Use pre-appointment prompts

As an appointment approaches, patients like to receive automated alerts to remind them of the next step in the journey. Automated appointment reminders can reduce no-shows for patient visits by an average of 25%. Pre-appointment check-ins can even ask for and accept copayments and other fees in advance.  

Streamline the visit 

During their visits, patient intake, check-in, and payment collection must be a smooth experience. Streamline things by offering digital intake forms in advance and in-office, and have patients enter their own payment information to reduce errors. That way, the focus is on the patient assessment and patient care.

During their visits, patient intake, check-in, and collecting payments must be a smooth experience for patients. ”

Providers often use multiple systems for clinical documentation, lab orders, eRx, and billing. Instead, implement a secure, cloud-based solution that integrates these functions. Above all, make sure digital platforms are secure, ensuring patient confidentiality.

Optimize Operations

Automate post-appointment processes

Practices often fail to send automated post-appointment surveys or statements to collect patient feedback or payments proactively. In fact, 93% of providers rely on manual and paper-based transactions to collect. Automated post-visit surveys improve reputation management, while automated patient billing can save practices 6 hours a week on collection calls.

Patients often miss payments. Practices that aren’t able to use patient monitoring for accounts receivable miss out on revenue. To solve this problem, text, email, and mail statements and balance reminders to encourage patients to pay their balances digitally, and track delivery.

Leveraging data analytics

Gathering data for your office doesn’t need to be rocket science. It’s as simple as asking the right questions. And chances are, you already have good data at your fingertips.

With the right operating system using data analytics, you can:

  • Track real-time performance on essential metrics like website search result rankings, online reputation, and the number of new patient appointments from a single dashboard.
  • Obtain HIPAA-compliant access to secure, cloud-hosted data storage. Practices and billing companies can easily export and order raw data into data sets for your business needs.
  • Analyze revenue performance across multiple medical practices and providers. Understand key revenue indicators at a high level or dive deeper into reports for granular insights uncovering opportunities to improve your bottom line.

Use the map and methodically ask what patient engagement looks like at each stage and how it can be improved. For example: How are people finding your practice? Note the offices that regularly send people your way and strengthen those relationships. Research whether you could forge bonds with others who could be a good source for referrals. If you’re spending a fortune to rent a billboard but no one is coming in from it, it may be time to change tactics.

This is just one example of how analyzing data can lead to better service for your patient population and bring in more revenue.

A successful journey

Knowing how patients experience your healthcare practice is essential in creating a more positive journey for them. By analyzing the patient’s arc, you can better assess and understand potential pain points within their visit.

But examining each step of a broken patient journey shouldn’t mean pursuing a different solution for each step. That could mean juggling 5 to 7 vendors, a task many providers simply don’t have time for. It can also be costly to build a comprehensive solution from pieces that don’t work together, or from horizontal solutions that don’t meet medical providers’ unique needs. 

“Piecemeal solutions lack system-wide tracking and analytics to measure, report, and optimize ROI,” said Tebra VP of Product Management and Strategy Nareen Sarabu.Bit-by-bit solutions can also mean a bit-by-bit return on investment. Instead, seek a complete medical solution to address as many steps of the patient journey as possible.

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Written by

Ryan Yates, consultant, editor, and writer

Ryan Yates is a writer, editor, and consultant with roots in the queer media, personal well-being and health, and B2B SaaS worlds. They cultivate presence, embodiment, and connection and operate across contexts, channels, audiences, and deliverable types, and are interested in the way that independent practices can support enhanced patient care by bringing those sensibilities to every step of the patient journey. Ryan Yates has healthcare- and well-being-related bylines in USA Today, the Daily Beast, Nylon, Refinery29, and other publications. They have also been featured in the Economist’s 1834, Vice, and elsewhere.

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