Ways to Improve Patient Experience: The Clinician’s Role

As we enter an era where healthcare consumers are more informed than ever before of their available choices, and providers have access to more contextual data, physicians and APCs have a unique opportunity to directly benefit their practices’ success and patient outcomes at the same time. They can accomplish this by focusing on meaningful ways they can improve patient satisfaction.

Patient satisfaction has a direct effect on the success of a provider organization, as well as on the quality of healthcare outcomes. According to one study, providers who had a high overall HCAHPS score also tended to consistently have a lower mortality index. In other words, when doctors and APCs engage with patients in ways that make the patient feel satisfied, patients listen, follow instructions, fill and take medications, follow up as directed, have better outcomes, and physicians and APCs save lives.

One primary issue with getting physicians and APCs engaged in patient satisfaction interventions is doctors fail to recognize the numerous opportunities they have to directly alter patient sentiments. A busy physician can often feel they have no impact on a patient’s perception of the practice. The physicians and APCs may feel that their interaction with their patient is usually just a slim portion of the overall patient experience.

However, moments of physician/APC-to-patient interaction form the centerpiece of a healthcare consumer’s overall impression of the practice and organization. Physicians and APCs can use these moments along with the following methodologies to make a significant difference in not just how well-received their organization is but also how to improve patient outcomes.

The first thing a physician can do to improve patient satisfaction is become aware of how his or her behavior and moment-to-moment decisions affect a patient’s impression of the practice. The physician or APC-to-patient encounter is similar to a performance: the patient is an audience member the physician or APC wants engaged, satisfied and emotionally invested in the interaction and their care.

Physicians and APCs may be preoccupied during these critical moments, treating the brief interaction as a chore — an obligatory component of their job. While an obligation, rounding and speaking with patients doesn’t have to feel like one. Physicians and APCs can instead focus on making the most of these moments in order to help the patient feel more informed and engaged in their care. Remember, according to the study cited above and multiple others, informed and engaged patients have improved outcomes.

Physicians and APCs will find improving their self-awareness during patient interactions and performing simple tasks to make them more engaged does not have to be difficult. During ApolloMD’s successful patient satisfaction intervention with multiple practices, our action items for physicians and APCs to perform during a patient interaction were simple, yet impactful:
  • Knock before entering and introduce yourself to everyone in the room.
  • Sit down whenever talking to the patient.
  • Address pain or comfort regularly.
  • Utilize whiteboards.
  • Encourage patient questions.
  • Routinely, these interventions are a complete success, with providers cultivating a culture of positive patient engagement. One administrator stated the program “allowed us to introduce and focus on the importance of customer service so that once complete, we will be able to maintain that higher level of energy and make these positive habits a way of life for the department.”

Focus on Good Patient Communication Skills

Breaking down moments of patient-physician interaction further, physicians and APCs can realize how small changes during patient interactions can make a huge difference in patient perceptions.

A common example is when physicians speak to quickly with the clinical explanation of the patient’s current status, test results or an expected prognosis. The patient may be overwhelmed by the very first statement made, and they can quickly lose focus as the doctor or APC continues, still trying to process the first bit of information.

To prevent this type of interaction, a physician can present clinical information in pieces, followed by a chance for the patient to ask questions before proceeding. Researchers have found  this method, which they describe as “chunking and checking,” can ensure  patients aren’t overwhelmed or puzzled by the clinical information they receive.

Physicians should also recognize patients do not always feel as if they have the chance to truly be heard. A provider may take the reins during the conversation, which makes the patient feel like a passenger rather than in control. A physician can remedy this problem by giving up control of the conversation from time to time.

“With every interaction, patients form opinions about quality based on staff empathy, service attitude, and friendliness, as well as provider communication skills and practice efficiency,” writes the AAFP (American Academy of Family Physicians), “There is no better way to evaluate the impact of service quality on the care experience than to ask our patients.”

Make Patients Voices Feel Heard and Important

Another challenge for physicians and APCs when it comes to improving patient interactions is time. In a crowded emergency department, it is easy for providers to get overwhelmed with seeing patients in a timely manner while focusing on providing a high-quality experience.  However, just because a physician or APC feels rushed does not mean the patient has to feel rushed. In some cases, the patient may try to expedite their interaction out of politeness for the physician’s time. If this happens, the patient may avoid asking questions or seeking the clarification they need to take ownership over their own care.

Physicians can make patients feel more comfortable and less rushed if they are comfortable themselves. Awareness of body language can have a positive impact for the physician and the patient. Don’t stand or pace. Instead, have a seat near the patient (or even lean against the wall if no chair is available). Encourage the patient to ask questions. Also, ask questions of the patient to allow them to work through their symptoms and care experience.

This long-standing strategy is best explained as “finding moments of truth.” Like an emotional scene in a movie, these little moments can color a patient’s impression of their entire care process.

Improve Patient Satisfaction Within Your Emergency Services Group by Uncovering Opportunities to Care

Improving the patient experience comes down to shifting perspective and recognizing the displays of humanity owed to all patients. While the potential moments of impact may be small, the cumulative effect on patient outcomes and satisfaction are enormous.

Your organization does not have to deal with improving patient satisfaction alone. Many emergency physician services groups offer Patient Experience Programs. Take a moment to evaluate whether your organization might need help improving, and how your goal of raising positive patient sentiment can truly make a difference in patient’s lives.
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