Customer service is at the heart of any successful business — just ask Apple, Lexus or Southwest Airlines, all companies rated at the top of the class in their respective markets in the 2017 Temkin Experience Ratings (a national customer experience survey).
Also found — somewhat unsurprisingly — in the 2017 Temkin survey: health plans and health care providers near the bottom of the list. A relative lack of resources and increasing demands placed on the provider and her practice by market-forces, often translates to the stereotypical physician’s office experience, which generally features long waits, uncertainty about when the provider will be seen, and little insight into the overall plan of care and what responsibilities the patient shares with their provider.
The truth of the matter is, improving the patient — excuse me, customer — experience at the point of care can be low-hanging fruit for many healthcare practices if the proper strategies are developed. Here are some tips to do just that, by focusing on transparency and engagement.
- Cost transparency is critical to improving the customer experience at your practice. Navigating a health plan’s endless explanation of benefits and statements from the disparate parts of the health care delivery system quickly overwhelms a patient, and may also put their finances at risk. Giving the patient as much information upfront as possible about the costs they should expect will go a long way in improving their perception of the interaction with your practice. No one wants to be surprised by hidden costs, especially when those costs are related to their health.
- Similarly, be transparent about the types of providers your patient might encounter during their time in your care — including yourself. Give them data points demonstrating the quality of care you and any potential specialists will furnish to them, and with which they can make informed decisions about who to see and when. In other words, your patient shouldn’t leave your office guessing why you’ve made a treatment plan recommendation — e.g. a procedure or specialist referral — all that will accomplish is some frantic Google searches once the patient has left the office. Instead, the patient should be able to point to some empirical evidence you’ve supplied them explaining why it’s important to follow your recommendations, including the sort of quality and cost considerations they can’t find on the internet.
- Once you’ve earned the patient’s trust with your intentional transparency, look to improve your patient engagement levels by making them partners in achieving good health. Do that by tailoring your messaging to them in ways they can understand and easily consume. Think: who is my audience, and what will they respond best to? Leverage your EMR partner to develop an understanding of how patients interact with you. Do they respond best by email, text or portal message? If they do use the portal, how often are they checking portal messages? Once the patient has left the office, knowing how and when to communicate updates to their treatment plan is the best way to keep them engaged over the long-term.
- Socioeconomic factors also play a role in effectively communicating the shared responsibility model of the treatment plan. Make sure to clearly detail the patient’s responsibility in the relationship in terms they can understand and internalize. Again, turn to mining your aggregated EMR data to frame the conversation — answer questions like: what’s the average age of my population? What level of education have they achieved? Do they live alone, i.e. have a robust support system? Knowing the social histories of your patients will help you develop plans of care patients can buy into and engage with.
One last lesson learned since we’ve introduced automation and self-serve into the healthcare industry: automate and add self-service capabilities when you can, but be careful not to take the personal touch out of healthcare. When you do collect data, use it to truly engage with your patients. Tailor messaging for them. Take the guesswork out of what they need to do before they arrive by enabling self-check-in technologies. But don’t oversaturate their experience with technology at the expense of face-to-face communication. Nothing will create a disengaged patient faster than feeling physically disconnected from their provider and his or her staff when their health is on the line.