An interesting article focused on the importance of the "patient experience" was posted on the American Medical News website back in March.1 It seems that the medical profession is finally starting to look at how it treats and communicates with patients.
Patient experience is the term used for a movement within medicine that focuses on the interaction between the doctor and the patient. It looks at the respect and regard shown to the patient, particularly how they are communicated with. Doctors are (finally) expected to coordinate their care in a way that keeps the patients from wondering what will happen next. Patient experience "is about protocols designed to reduce patient stress."1
According to the American Medical News online article, the trend is being driven by the competitive marketplace and recent health care reforms. The article presents several examples of leading institutions and organizations that are implementing patient experience protocols. The UCLA health system is using "undergraduate medical students to pose as patients to ensure doctors are following the protocol." Speaking on these patient experience protocols in the article, David Feinberg, MD, president of UCLA Health Systems and CEO of UCLA Hospital Systems, stated, "If you can't follow it, you don't work here. It's not the place for you."
Perhaps the most revealing comments come from Nancy Foster, American Hospital Association vice president for quality and patient safety, who notes in the article: "The patient experience movement has been gaining more steam recently. More often, significant portions of hospital executives' pay is based on these measurements. Most hospitals are expected to ramp up their patient experience protocols as Medicare becomes more related to [value-based] payments. A substantial portion of value-based purchasing is linked to outcomes."
The patient experience movement within medicine should give us pause to look at our own profession. Yes, we can pat ourselves on the back and be proud of the fact that the profession has always practiced much of what medicine is now focusing on. But there is a sense that we must continue to enhance the patient experience or we may lose the edge we have. As I read the AMN article, I thought of my own doctor of chiropractic. While I'm not your average chiropractic patient, the concepts are still the same.
At the end of each visit, patients look to have a complete understanding of their health challenge. While they like knowing what was wrong, they are much more interested in what to expect after they leave the office:
- Are there any restrictions to my daily routine?
- Can I still go to the gym this afternoon?
- Should I make any changes to my nutritional supplements?
- If I'm in pain, how can I manage it naturally without drugs?
- At what point do I need to come back, and how often?
- How will I know I'm healed from this episode?
A patient can leave your office with many different feelings. Generally speaking, they can leave with a feeling of confidence because they know they are seeing the right doctor, their health challenge is being adequately addressed and they are still in control of the important aspects of their lives. Or they can leave feeling apprehensive, uncertain about the care they are receiving; still wondering if they will improve and not knowing how their ailment will ultimately impact their lives.
How and what you communicate to your patients will have the most significant impact on how they feel when they leave your office. But you aren't the only factor. The patient experience begins with the first patient interaction. It may be with a staff member, another patient (in the form of a referral) or what they see when they drive past your office. In fact, the exterior presence of your office is the beginning of thousands of patient experiences (or unlikely-to-ever-become patient experiences) every day.
The patient experience continues with the front door of your office and continues through the reception area and down the hall. What your staff says and does makes a major impact. The post-visit experience can be especially important. How is the patient treated on the way out and what resources do they leave with? Is there a follow-up e-mail, e-mail newsletter or some other form of consistent communication?
Finally, how you coordinate their care is especially critical. Does your communication play into the "chiropractors just try to keep you coming forever" stereotype? Have you explained the care path effectively in a way that the patient understands and will support? Do they know you are part of the health care community and will refer them when appropriate?
Maybe it's time to take your own challenge. Have a friend or (better yet) another DC in your area come into your office and go through the process of being a new patient. Pick someone who is comfortable being brutally honest with you, and don't tell your staff what you are doing. (Perhaps you and another DC can do this for each other.)
Ask your friend / colleague to give you their feedback and compare you to other providers they have seen. Ask them about every aspect of their patient experience. It is especially important that they tell you about your communication and how they felt leaving your office.
Find out what the patient experience is for your office. It may open your eyes to ways you can improve that experience and ultimately increase referrals. Be brave enough to test yourself.
- Ter Matt S. "Patient Experience Is Next Measurement in Value-Based Care." American Medical News, March 4, 2013.
Click here for more information about Donald M. Petersen Jr., BS, HCD(hc), FICC(h), Publisher.