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Patient Experience: Why It Matters and How to Improve It

June 03, 2021

With new technologies and improved business models, healthcare organizations can focus on a patient-centered approach to care. However, each improvement requires data to ensure consistent experiences and calculated actions.

To enable these changes, healthcare leaders turn to health informatics companies. Healthcare information technology (HCIT) allows organizations to prioritize patients and deliver high-quality care. Moreover, health informatics services help facilities reduce financial risk by building efficiency into caregiving processes.

This article will explore what the patient experience is, why it matters and how it affects outcomes while looking at recent healthcare changes and what facilities can do to improve experiences.

What Is the Patient Experience, and Why Does It Matter?

The patient experience involves all encounters people have with the healthcare system. Each interaction, from making an online appointment to answering a follow-up phone call, impacts patient perceptions.

Although excellent experiences during appointments are essential, a patient-centric process considers all touchpoints. When combined, each element forms the patient experience and, in return, a perception of the healthcare system. Patient experiences stem from:

  • Empathic, respectful and courteous conversations via telephone, email and chat
  • Shorter wait times and clear communications regarding delays
  • Access to self-help patient education and account tools
  • A continual effort to improve trust across all platforms and services
  • User-friendly mobile and desktop applications Personalized experiences, not a cookie-cutter approach

Benefits of Exceptional Patient Experiences

Increasingly, today's patients start their healthcare journey online by reviewing recommendations, reviews and responses from health organizations. With the availability of diverse service offerings, patients who feel their voice isn't heard can move their electronic medical records to a new provider.

Delivering consistently excellent patient experiences gives healthcare organizations, providers and patients many benefits, including:

  • Boost patient engagement: Engaged patients feel better about their care quality, be more proactive about following guidance and more likely choose the facility again.
  • Increase an organization's revenue: Experiences fuel loyalty, and engaged, loyal patients want to use services from a trusted provider.
  • Enhance brand reputation: Trust and reliability are huge factors for patients, and ensuring good experiences can lead to better reviews and ratings while increasing word-of-mouth referrals.
  • Improved outcomes: Enhanced experiences can result in better health outcomes, helping people while keeping a facility in good standing with insurance companies.
  • Cost savings: Better patient outcomes can reduce readmissions, which typically cost more than the initial treatment.1

Moreover, research shows that patient experience and access to care "will be the most important differentiators for winning and retaining patients in 2021."2

The Impact of Patient Experience on Health Outcomes

Studies repeatedly show that excellent patient experiences result in better health outcomes.2 This holds especially true for ongoing care or the management of chronic conditions. Having strong communication and trust in providers gives patients the ability and confidence to control their situation and feel comfortable enough to ask questions about their care.

Positive patient experiences have proven to influence outcomes, such as:

  • Diabetic patients show "greater self-management skills and quality of life."3
  • Patients are more likely to adhere to treatment plans and medical - advice.3
  • After a heart attack hospitalization, patients "had better health outcomes a year after discharge."3
  • Patients who said "doctors always listened to them carefully were less likely to be readmitted."4

Costs of Not Improving Patient Experiences

Poor patient experiences can result in several problems for healthcare organizations. Of course, at the top of this list are patient-related costs. Negative encounters in-person or online can damage a medical brand's relationship with a patient. In return, patients may:

  • Write a negative review or post about their poor experience on social media
  • Seek out a new healthcare provider or system
  • Cancel or fail to show for follow-up appointments
  • Ignore medical guidance or instructions
  • Decide to forgo preventative procedures

The above results can impact a medical system's reputation in local communities and online. Consumers may take issue with a healthcare organization's reputation and perceive the quality of care as lower than it is.
Studies show that "consumers commonly agree (56%) that a hospital's reputation is the same as its quality of health care. They also associate hospital reputation with the belief that they will be less likely to suffer a complication."5 Other consequences of poor experiences include potential higher medical malpractice risks and an increase in employee turnover.3

Recent Improvements to Patient Experiences

Digital consumer-facing technologies, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) can improve patient experiences in many ways. For example, disease registries can help health systems recognize at-risk patients using claims data, biometric information and pharmacy details.6

However, more recently, we've witnessed dramatic shifts and digital transformations to keep patients connected and improve experiences. Providers began offering telehealth services to populations who didn't have access before the pandemic, especially in rural areas. McKinsey & Company reports, "Providers have rapidly scaled offerings and are seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients via telehealth than they did before."7

Another innovative area of patient care involves the Internet of Things (IoT), such as sensors and devices that can track client health data from anywhere. Wearable technologies give patients control over their experiences while sending data back to providers for review.8

Furthermore, companies like MapQuest for Business help hospitals create efficient routes for home healthcare providers, allowing caregivers to spend more time on patient care and less time on data entry.

Ways Medical Facilities Can Improve Patient Experiences

Many healthcare experiences revolve around communication, wait times, staff responsiveness, cleanliness and overall patient satisfaction. Monitoring encounters via patient satisfaction surveys can help facilities identify areas for improvement.

However, most organizations can improve patient experiences using data and technology to build consistent and personalized experiences. The 2020-2021 U.S. Patient Access Leadership Report finds, over 75% of health leaders believe telehealth "offers an excellent patient experience. But, 51% believe that significant improvements are needed to effectively integrate telehealth into the care delivery process."2

Analyzing process data can help healthcare leaders build effective systems. Successful organizations will bridge the gaps between in-person and digital experiences, providing a unified approach to healthcare that more closely aligns with how consumers use devices in their everyday lives.

Use Health Information Technology to Make a Difference

Data is intricately connected to improving patient experiences and outcomes. By joining the power of human touch and technology, medical groups can truly become patient-centric. If you'd like to help improve patient experience, consider how Kent State's online Master's in Health Informatics can help you achieve your goals.