A Reimagined Patient Experience Is Vital for Healthcare Providers
Healthcare innovation has been accelerated by the pandemic, and delivery models continue to shift—making the patient experience paramount. Providers and payers are facing mounting pressures to provide greater access, more advanced technology, transparent pricing and quality, and an overall better patient experience—and some savvy organizations have begun to anticipate these new demands. Today, providers must understand patients’ expectations and continually ensure that the right processes are in place, healthcare staff is properly trained, and the technology provides an optimal patient experience. Fostering a culture of continuous improvement enabled by technology is vital for healthcare organizations to meet the ever-changing market dynamics and patient expectations.
Several key drivers impact patient experience and healthcare quality, and these aspects can better position healthcare providers to effectively meet patients’ needs.
A desire for behavioral and mental health services has driven the increase in telehealth, which can provide better access to critical services that previously were unavailable, especially in US rural areas.
Patient experience: designing and executing a patient engagement strategy
Fostering a positive patient experience has always been vital for the success of healthcare organizations. Superior customer service helps generate revenue, accelerate cash, and improve efficiencies of healthcare operations.
According to one study, almost all online complaints are due to issues with customer service, which means the customer —that is, the patient— experience should shape the strategies and tactics within all healthcare organizations. Wait times are one of the largest drivers of patient frustration, and this issue has caused one in five patients to switch doctors. These wait times and other forms of patient dissatisfaction are often driven by staffing issues, both in healthcare facilities as well as call centers and other support functions.
To revitalize poor experiences stemming from healthcare staffing concerns requires a strategy that examines an organization’s internal processes, improves cross-training, and leverages technology and automation appropriately. Options such as robotic automation, revenue cycle management (RCM) tools, and other technology enhancements can optimize call centers, as well as patient intake, billing, and other back-office functions. Removing the administrative burden of staff will turn the focus toward value-added activities that improve operations. For example, when physician practices and clinics work with advisors to improve operational efficiencies, often they find that clinical technician staff carry the administrative burden associated with patient registration, insurance verification, and prior authorization requirements. By freeing up the time associated with these administrative burdens, the clinical staff efforts can concentrate on triaging patients’ clinical and medical questions, improving customer service, and driving better patient outcomes. Web portals, e-registration, and digital waiting rooms are all options to make scheduling, registration, and insurance verification more user-friendly and automated. Although many healthcare providers have a history of phone-based scheduling, recent reports indicate that online scheduling is important to nearly 60% of patients, showing that patients now expect digital healthcare scheduling, and this demand cannot be ignored. Investing in such technologies and implementing new systems can be a significant undertaking that should be carefully considered. Here, internal processes should first be examined and optimized before selecting and implementing any technology or automation.
Price transparency: creating opportunities for healthcare executives
The importance of fostering a positive patient experience has increased in recent years due to new rules and regulations. Today’s CMS regulations (such as price transparency for health plans or hospital services) require healthcare leaders to re-examine the way in which they engage, communicate, and provide services to patients. These regulations are expected to transform the industry, increasing competition and creating a more personalized and patient-friendly healthcare delivery environment.
For executives across the healthcare industry, the new healthcare price transparency regulations present many challenges, in terms of compliance and market competition. If understood and managed well, these challenges can become strategic opportunities that better position organizations to grow their market share.
The new price transparency regulations will provide greater availability and insight into data across the marketplace. Organizations will now be able to conduct competitive positioning analyses regarding price, quality, and patient outcomes. High-performing organizations should seek this data and conduct a detailed market analysis to guide investment opportunities or other key decisions, including the internal impacts of proposed changes. One way that organizations can effectively manage pricing considerations is through contract management and optimization.
Opportunities for investment to improve patient engagement will expand as data continues to reveal the needs of patients. There is a growing call for creating patient engagement tools that allow for mobile and web-based scheduling for shoppable services, cost estimator tools, creative financing options, and other information, which can better educate patients on the benefits and costs. One survey showed that most patients would like to know the cost of care in advance and that existing tools such as provider websites or portals are not being widely used by patients—with over half of patients being unaware that comparison tools existed.
In this new healthcare environment, the focus on the patient experience will be even more critical. As information and options for care become more accessible, creating a patient-friendly, technology-enabled environment will help drive additional market share to offset the costs from related investment.
Personalized healthcare experience: an accelerated shift toward a patient-centric delivery model, better access, and telehealth preferences
As healthcare providers continue to understand the lasting impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the healthcare industry, strategies should consider that many of the patterns that have developed in recent years are likely here to stay. Patients will continue to want a more personalized, technology-enabled, healthcare experience.
The inconveniences and fears surrounding an in-person visit have made digital engagement and telemedicine an essential component of healthcare delivery. The CDC reported that half of US adults delayed their medical care to avoid taking risks related to COVID-19. Because of this, telehealth usage has skyrocketed, and the patient-centered conveniences of telehealth will probably make it a lasting trend. According to a 2022 consumer research study, more than half of patients want to receive some, most, or all of their healthcare virtually or online in the future. The large portion of the consumer population preferring telehealth has major financial implications for healthcare providers.
A desire for behavioral and mental health services has driven the increase in telehealth, which can provide better access to critical services that previously were unavailable, especially in US rural areas. During the peak of the pandemic, telehealth represented 40% of all mental health and substance abuse-related outpatient services, and the use of telehealth remains high at nearly the same percentages today. As the demand for telehealth prevails, healthcare providers must continue to meet patient expectations. Under Medicare, geographic restrictions for mental health and substance abuse services have been removed, allowing patients to receive these services at home. Policies continue to evolve regarding access to care and the use of telehealth, making it a much more realistic option for healthcare providers to effectively reach more patients.
Whether it is through more transparent pricing, a higher-quality patient experience, or reimagined access to care, healthcare organizations must begin looking inward to drive success. Leading organizations will optimize their services, uncover data-informed and patient-centered strategies while using automation to lift administrative burdens, and continually adapt to the ever-changing market dynamics.