Optimizing the Hospital Patient Experience

Doctor consulting with a patient
What is hospital patient experience, and how can you optimize it?

Hospital patient experience. It’s become both a buzzword and an essential measure of hospital performance, with a key part of that experience being the financial factor. But does everyone define this focus the same way, and how can health systems improve it?

Defining the Hospital Patient Experience

The US Dept. of Health and Human Services at their AHRQ (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality) uses this definition: “Patient experience encompasses the range of interactions that patients have with the healthcare system, including their care from health plans, and from doctors, nurses, and staff in hospitals, physician practices, and other health care facilities. As an integral component of healthcare quality, patient experience includes several aspects of health care delivery that patients value highly when they seek and receive care, such as getting timely appointments, easy access to information, and good communication with healthcare providers.”

That sounds good, but how do you really assess that? In a PDF from The Health Management Academy Q3 2019 Consumer Engagement survey, three focus areas have been identified:

  1. Consumer Research – All health systems conduct consumer research, with marketing/branding (89%), member/patient satisfaction (89%), and access (83%) being the most common areas of focus.
  2. Measurement Tools – Health systems leverage numerous measurement tools to assess consumer loyalty and satisfaction, most commonly Press Ganey surveys (78%) and the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (72%).
  3. Price Transparency A majority of health systems (53%) perceive their level of price transparency to be average, recognizing further research and additional resources are required to improve the patient financial experience.

According to their website, The Health Management Academy is a network of executives from the nation’s largest integrated health systems and the industry’s most innovative companies striving to shape the future of healthcare. The group produces “knowledge and insights” including studies, surveys and reports, and also recently produced a report on “Optimizing the Patient Financial Experience.”

In the 42 page report, The Academy lays out the current situation facing healthcare executives for the hospital patient experience: “Over the past decade, expectations around the consumer experience have changed drastically. More and more, consumers expect to receive goods and services where, when, and how they want it and expect a personalized experience. While other industries (e.g., retail, banking) have weathered this evolution, healthcare is just beginning to experience this pressure.”

Meanwhile the AHRQ site mentioned above makes an important distinction between “Patient Experience” and “Patient Satisfaction:”

“The terms patient satisfaction and patient experience are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. To assess patient experience, one must find out from patients whether something that should happen in a health care setting (such as clear communication with a provider) actually happened or how often it happened.  Satisfaction, on the other hand, is about whether a patient’s expectations about a health encounter were met. Two people who receive the exact same care, but who have different expectations for how that care is supposed to be delivered, can give different satisfaction ratings because of their different expectations.”

Solutions for the Hospital Patient Experience

We wondered how you can manage for this distinction and in the end a more positive patient experience, so we had a look over at the AHA — American Hospital Association — website and found scores of articles including:

Technology. Volunteers. Community. Trustees. Mobile Communications. We’re talking about a holistic solution to improve patient experience and in doing so boosting a hospital’s revenue integrity.

Healthcare IT News published a forward looking piece in 2018 on “Patient experience: Where your hospital needs to be five years from now.” The article details how hospitals are looking for new methods of patient engagement including one that provides “staff escorts.” Prospects for emerging telemedicine are raised along with some out of the box thinking like providing Uber and Lyft transport to the hospital. The article ends with some thoughts on new opportunities for branding and marketing the patient experience.

To address a patient’s financial experience, The Academy in “Optimizing the Patient Financial Experience” breaks the patient financial journey into three parts:

  1. Pre-Care – First, identifying a “disconnect between Consumer and Finance executives when it comes to consumer strategy and the approach to optimizing the patient financial experience,” the group advises that “it is important to develop an overarching system strategy that aligns the Consumer and Finance perspectives.”
  2. During Care – Here, The Academy takes a hard look at availability of financial counselors; providing in-person communication during registration; up-front screening, and touchpoints during care.
  3. Post-Care – Paper billing is still widely used, and though there has been a rise in “patient portals,” health systems still struggle to present one comprehensive patient bill. Coordination, and lack thereof, is identified as a major problem in need of solution on this point.

We liked the three segments in the concept of a patient’s “journey” through a healthcare system. So much goes on within the hospital that simply viewing the process through a patient’s eyes is helpful. When you think of all the moving pieces, the quest for better patient experience in hospitals can seem quite complex. But in a nutshell, it’s all about good communication and smart processes. As the AHRQ site observes, “A positive patient experience is an important goal in its own right. Moreover, substantial evidence points to a positive association between various aspects of patient experience, such as good communication between providers and patients, and several important health care processes and outcomes. These processes and outcomes include patient adherence to medical advice, better clinical outcomes, improved patient safety practices, and lower utilization of unnecessary health care services.”

The Cloudmed editorial team will continue to keep an eye on solutions for better hospital patient experience that leads to enhanced revenue integrity. As we serve 1,700 healthcare organizations in the U.S. and help recover over $475 million of underpaid or unidentified revenue for our clients annually, we always keep in mind that the bottom line is the end client — patients, who are increasingly developing a consumer mindset. You can check out more helpful articles on our blog.