As healthcare providers strive to deliver the highest quality care, it’s critical to understand the importance of improving the patient experience. Patient experiences can have a huge influence on overall healthcare quality and long-term outcomes. This is good news for patients, who consistently say they value healthcare encounters that surpass expectations. Research by Experian Health and PYMNTS in 2022 uncovered frictions in the patient journey, with patients commonly frustrated by poor communications, confusing and time-consuming administrative processes, and a lack of digital choices. In 2023, patients sent a clear message in response to the State of Patient Access 2023 survey: more than half of those who think patient access falls short of expectations would consider switching providers for a better experience.
Creating an outstanding patient experience built on empathy, choice and personalization is therefore key to retaining loyal and happy consumers. Healthcare providers should utilize digital tools to offer timely access to services, clear and comprehensive communications, and a tailored approach to patient engagement to foster patient satisfaction – or risk losing patients to their competitors.
Why the patient experience matters
The patient experience is a gateway to the healthcare system. It encompasses every step the patient takes while seeking and receiving medical care. This goes beyond the clinical aspects of care and includes all the systems and strategies that determine a patient’s access to care. From the moment they book their appointment through their clinical care and final bill payments, each interaction is an opportunity to make or break a patient’s satisfaction with their provider, so improving the patient experience is crucial.
The connection between patient loyalty and a provider’s revenue is undeniable. However, it is important to recognize that the patient experience plays a significant role in health outcomes. Inefficient systems can lead to missed appointments, while confusing billing practices can prompt patients to postpone care. Adherence to care plans is far more likely when patients are engaged in positive, streamlined and user-friendly pathways. And when patients are positive about their healthcare experience, there are trickle-down effects for staff too, as patient frustrations are minimized and efficient processes ease workload pressures.
What does a quality patient experience look like?
Alex Harwitz, VP of Product, Digital Front Door, at Experian Health, says that a high-quality patient experience should encompass three things:
“Choice, flexibility and convenience are themes that have come through strongly in each of our patient surveys. Patients are more mobile and more digitally active, so they expect services to be available on demand. They have a diverse range of schedules, responsibilities and preferences, and providers need to accommodate these variations so accessing care feels easy and convenient. Providers that leverage digital technology to deliver a patient-centered experience will see higher levels of patient engagement, better health outcomes, and a healthier bottom line.”
Key factors affecting patient experience
- Clinical care: It goes without saying that the quality of clinical interactions is a major determinant of the patient experience. Unfortunately, clinical staffing shortages are putting pressure on providers, particularly in rural and low-income areas and in specialties including primary care, obstetrics, and psychiatry. More than a third of nurses say they plan to leave their jobs. Automation and digitally enabled self-service technology could help make workloads more manageable, as well as improve patient outcomes and close gaps in care.
- Administrative processes: The convenience of booking appointments, registering for care, and navigating billing systems can greatly impact how patients perceive the quality of their care. Efficient and accessible online scheduling, simple and transparent billing, and a choice of channels through which to access information can all play a role. Staff friendliness and availability can also affect patient perceptions.
- Logistical factors: If patients can’t actually get to a healthcare location easily, this will have a negative impact on their experience. Opening hours, accessible facilities, cleanliness, parking and transportation are factors to consider.
How to improve the patient experience (by opening the digital front door)
For healthcare providers, there’s always a new delivery challenge around the corner. But it’s also easier than ever to improve the patient experience, thanks to digital technology.
Online self-scheduling allows patients to book appointments 24/7 in a convenient and flexible way. Patients can see real-time appointment availability so they can see their doctor as soon as possible, and receive automated reminders so they don’t miss their appointment. Improving the management of cancellations and rescheduled appointments leads to more efficient use of doctors’ time, leading to enhanced clinical experiences for patients, too.
Targeted patient outreach solutions complement this, by helping providers schedule more visits with automated text messages and interactive voice response campaigns. Patients can book appointments and make payments right from personalized messages, instead of waiting for call centers to open or having to pay through slower traditional methods.
Similarly, automated registration using patient intake software and patient portals allows patients to handle pre-appointment administration more easily. Recent data from Experian Health and PYMNTS found that a third of patients choose to fill out registration forms using digital methods, while almost two-thirds would change providers to one that offers a patient portal. In addition to delivering a consumer-oriented experience, automation relies on robust data, which reduces the risk of errors on patients’ records, in turn preventing delays and confusion.
Finally, offering digital price transparency and payment tools is an essential strategy to meet patients’ expectations and help them figure out better ways to pay their bills. More than 6 in 10 patients who have received an unexpected bill or inaccurate estimate would switch providers, which again points to the competitive advantage in opening the digital front door. Proactive price estimates, support to find missing coverage, and tailored payment plans make the financial journey far less stressful for patients. Patient Financial Advisor can bring these elements together and give patients the option to make online payments, boosting patient collection rates.
To enhance the patient experience, it is crucial to identify the moments when patients can be provided with support and reassurance. However, the impact of this goes far beyond patient satisfaction. By focusing on improving the patient experience, a chain reaction of advantageous outcomes occurs throughout the entire healthcare ecosystem, including improved revenue.
Learn more about how Experian Health’s digital solutions can help healthcare organizations focus on improving the patient experience.