The Intake

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

What is patient experience, and how can medical practices improve it?

Patient experience impacts all aspects of your practice. Learn how to improve it, including using technology that supports the patient’s needs and preferences.

Doctor treating patient and smiling while answering what is the patient experience

At a Glance

  • Today’s patients expect a seamless, digital-first experience when interacting with healthcare providers. Practices need to offer online scheduling, digital intake forms, text reminders, online bill pay, and patient portals.
  • The patient experience encompasses every touchpoint throughout the patient journey — from initial research to booking appointments to follow-up care.
  • An excellent patient experience improves health outcomes, boosts patient retention and referrals, supports revenue growth, and helps attract new patients through positive online reviews.
  • Listening to patient feedback and continuously improving is key.

Not long ago, providing excellent patient care in a friendly atmosphere was enough to create a lifelong patient. Today, satisfying patients goes beyond care delivery. Independent practices must focus on all aspects of the patient experience to make sure they leave their appointments happy and satisfied.

What is patient experience? It's the sum of all patient interactions, from first online search for local healthcare to the follow-up after a visit. It can be viewed as an ongoing loop of access, communication, and feedback between your practice and the patient community.

Patients expect speedy and efficient services, convenient communication, and online access to request their records, lab results, and prescription refills. Patients who receive that — and more —are more likely to return, recommend you to friends and family, and leave you positive online reviews. Good news for your bottom line!

In this article, we will closely examine the patient experience and why it’s important. Then we'll share some actionable ways healthcare technology can help your practice. 

Want to learn how patients find and pick their doctors? We surveyed more than 1,200 patients nationwide to understand how they choose a doctor and why they keep coming back. Download the free report.

How excellent patient experiences help your practice

Modern medical practices must juggle many things at once. Not only do they need to deliver high-quality care, but also high-quality customer service to clients. 

Positive patient experience is difficult to achieve. As independent practices face high turnover and rampant burnout in the healthcare industry. Further accelerating the need for a better patient experience 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.  Even having a long patient history at your practice doesn’t guarantee that a patient will stay. According to Tebra’s 4th annual Patient Perspectives report, almost 3 out of 4 patients would leave current providers after a poor experience. More than half would leave over slow or no responses to questions and concerns, or poor experiences with office staff.

How a better patient experience can help independent practices

1. Attract and retain patients

A consistent and positive patient experience keeps patients returning and helps your practice attract new ones. Individuals who have a positive patient experience are more likely to become advocates for your practices. 

In visits, express the importance of online reviews and follow-up visits with a quick post-service patient experience survey. Survey responses offer your practice workable patient experience data, while online reviews help attract new customers. Simply asking for feedback goes a long way. 

2. Support revenue and practice growth

Your practice’s patient experience is tied directly to revenue, growth, and patient retention. Patient experience affects patient engagement, which can keep patients returning to the office regularly. And good patient engagement results from consistently good patient experiences and helpful communications. 

3. Improve online reputation through Google Business reviews

Online reviews are the new word of mouth. An excellent patient experience encourages people to share the good news with others, building patient confidence in your practice. According to Tebra’s 4th annual Patient Perspectives survey, 93% of patients say reviews are at least somewhat important in choosing providers. In addition, 56% of people won’t visit a healthcare professional whose review average is less than 4-stars. 

4. Improve health outcomes

Providing an excellent patient experience can boost patient engagement, which leads to better patient outcomes. If a client feels supported by all staff and services at your practice, returning for a follow-up won’t be intimidating. Patient interactions, like reminders to make appointments, encourage patients to seek medical treatment when they’d normally put off routine visits.

How do I measure patient experience?

With so many touchpoints to engage with patients, practices must be methodical in their approach to improving the patient experience. An essential first step is to take the perspective of the patient to empathize with their journey.

Mapping the patient journey

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. By breaking the patient journey into a few different categories, practices can make this process more manageable. 

A typical patient journey looks something like these steps:

  1. Search. Google, websites, and social media. 
  2. Consideration. Practice’s website, Google Business reviews, and other online directories.
  3. Conversion. Book an appointment via the website or call the office or text to make an appointment. 
  4. Pre-appointment. Pre-visit paperwork, check-in. Is it in-person, online, or both?
  5. Virtual or in-person visit. Waiting room climate, wait times, front desk interactions, 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 patient feedback. 

Once you’ve identified the touchpoints, it's easier to form a strategy and choose ways to improve the patient experience at each step.

Surveys and reviews

In measuring patient experience, it’s vital to identify your practices’ metrics for success. How long do you want to keep patients, on average? How frequent are follow-up visits? What is your average rate of no-shows, and what would you want it to be? Once you know what you’re looking for, you can collect patient data to improve your practice’s quality of care. 

Patient satisfaction surveys are an excellent way to catch blind spots and correct them. They’re also vital in letting patients know their feedback is valuable. The business of healthcare is fast becoming a business of customer service. Simply asking patients what they’re missing or would like goes a long way in delivering on their expectations. 

If surveys just aren’t cutting it, there are many other means to collect patient data. You can hire a 3rd party company to conduct a patient experience report. Focus groups are another great way to gather quantitative and qualitative data from patients. 

It's especially important to investigate and respond to negative online reviews. About 64% of patients who left negative reviews said they'd return to a practice if they responded to their complaints. These reviews enable you to collect more data. Is there any consistency across negative reviews? If the issue is systemic, how can it be addressed? 

Your online presence conveys what your brick-and-mortar practice is like, so be sure to be both responsive and attentive. Medical and dental practices should respond to every review, positive or negative. For negative reviews, it’s best to acknowledge the reviewer and ask them to contact your practice privately about the matter. Doing so makes the reviewer feel heard and shows prospective patients you care enough to attend to patient feedback. 

How to improve the patient experience in independent medical practices

Practices that wish to retain current clients and attract new ones must evolve their services and technology to keep pace. This is easier said than done, but don’t worry. Here are some steps your practice can take to meet patient expectations and offer a seamless patient care experience.

An easy-to-find web presence

Most new patients will find your business online. In Tebra’s 4th annual Patient Perspectives report, half of patients said websites are “very or extremely important” when choosing a provider. A cohesive, on-brand, presence across your website, social media accounts, and provider profiles is essential. Ensure a user-friendly website with original photography and information about the services your practice provides. By having appropriate keywords on your website, Google can better rank your practice for patients to easily find.

Offer online scheduling and online payments

Let's say a prospective client has researched providers, reviewed your website, and decided to book an appointment. Online scheduling is the next 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. 

Online payments are customary for just about every ​​customer experience we have these days. So it’s no surprise that more than 51% of patients preferred a digital option for paying their bill. 

Enable text messaging communication

Digital access tools are all about your practice accommodating current patient behavior. Now, in the world of smartphones, text messaging is key for patient communication. A 2023 patient experience survey by Tebra shows that most patients (67%) want text message appointment reminders. Also, 51% of patients want platforms that enable two-way patient communication to easily request prescription refills, make appointments and ask questions.

Allow for digital check-in and offer patient portals

A 2022 study found that digital appointment check-in is what patients want most, but it's the least adopted by providers. This can help the patient experience flow faster and create efficiencies at the front desk. 

Make pre-visit forms available online through email, text, or a patient portal. This lets patients complete paperwork ahead of time and can cut their wait time upon arrival at the office. 

Offering a patient portal is a great way to collect patient documentation. Patient portals have jumped in popularity, according to Tebra’s 4th annual Patient Perspectives report. Going online to a patient portal to get answers to questions or give feedback increased by 23% and overtook both text messaging and email.

A patient portal also lessens the administrative burden on your front office team by providing core capabilities. This includes the patient's ability to request prescription refills, update insurance and schedule future appointments.

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. Patient visits do run over — sometimes — and that’s OK. 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. 

Thoughtful providers who listen well

Patients prioritize thoughtful, personalized healthcare providers who make them feel seen and heard and offer empathetic patient education. Digital access tools are essential to supporting scalable practice growth and function as a necessary add-on to excellent care. 

At the end of the day, patient-centered care remains the most important aspect of the patient-centered experience. In fact, 50% of patients want a provider who is a good listener. 

Crack the code for beating medical billing challenges with this free workbook. It provides tips around improving patient collections, streamlining claims submissions, and reducing rejections and denials.

The difference between patient experience, patient satisfaction, and patient engagement

It’s easy to think of patient experience, patient satisfaction, and patient engagement as 3 versions of the same idea. But while closely tied, they are separate entities with their own influences and effects.

What is patient experience? 

The patient experience is about how the patient is treated along the entire patient journey. It’s a way to add up how many of the things that are supposed to happen do happen.

It encompasses all patient needs and how they’ve been met. Were they able to book the appointment online? What communication occurred with the provider? Were billing and payments accurate? These all add up to a patient’s healthcare experience and can be objectively measured. It’s shaped by the technology a practice uses and informed by the practice’s culture.

What comprises patient satisfaction?

The term patient satisfaction is about how patients feel about whether the practice satisfies their expectations and needs. 

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. However, 2 patients who book online may have different interpretations of the experience. One may be completely satisfied and the other disgruntled. It is a subjective opinion.

Greater patient satisfaction leads to higher patient engagement, which means patients are more likely to seek medical care when needed. A satisfied patient sticks to healthcare plans, remains with your practice, and stays engaged.

Learn how to create a seamless patient experience to increase loyalty and reduce churn in Tebra’s free guide.

What comprises patient engagement?

Patient engagement is the degree to which an individual is invested in and knowledgeable about their health and healthcare. Patient engagement is influenced by both patient experience and satisfaction. 

Practices can boost engagement by helping patients be equipped, enabled, and empowered regarding their health. A great patient experience can lead to higher patient engagement. This means patients are more likely to seek medical care when needed and have better clinical outcomes.

Key takeaway 

As an independent practice, you’ve always put your patients first. That is the foundation to building patient trust and a loyal client base. Today, patients are looking not only for high-quality treatment and a trusting doctor-patient relationship but simplicity and ease in service. Provide the same one-click digital accessibility people have come to expect in their day-to-day lives. 

In this self-service patient context, patient interactions are streamlined and simplified. This empowers you and your staff to focus on the most important part of the job: Helping patients heal.

Get an inside look at the revenue models, operations, and industry trends gathered from 250+ independent medical billing companies in our 2023 medical billing benchmark report

Access the free report
Tebra recently surveyed 1,200+ people nationwide to get an inside look at how patients find and pick their doctors.
Discover How Patients Find and Choose Their Doctors

You Might Also Be Interested In

Learn how to create a seamless patient experience that increases loyalty and reduces churn, while providing personalized care that drives practice growth in Tebra’s free guide to optimizing your practice.

Subscribe to The Intake:
A weekly check-up for your independent practice

Written by

Catherine Tansey, business writer and reporter

Catherine Tansey is a business and healthcare writer and reporter. She has close to a decade of experience writing and reporting on small business best practices, emerging technology, market trends, and more. Catherine has several family members who own private practices in mental health services, dentistry, and chiropractics, and she’s seen firsthand the pride and privilege practice owners feel to be able to support their communities.

Reviewed by

Lauren Wheeler, BCPA, MD

Dr. Lauren Wheeler, MD, BCPA, is a former family medicine physician who currently works as an independent healthcare advocate as well as a medical editor and writer. You can get in touch with her about anything writing or advocacy at her website

Get expert tips, guides, and valuable insights for your healthcare practice