Although health care at its most basic level is a personal experience shared between caregivers and patients, it operates in a business world. This business reality drives health care professionals to walk a fine line between good patient care and good business sense. When trying to watch dollars and cents, it's easy to cut corners on the little details which can then snowball into negatively effecting basic office routines that make up a successful medical practice and a positive patient experience. While it is important to run a successful business financially, it is equally important to always strive to deliver an excellent patient experience. Physical therapists, surgeons, psychologists, chiropractors ~ every medical professional who deals with patients will find their businesses are most successful when they make sure that patient-centered care is a priority in their office.
When considering ways to improve patient experience and at the same time watch your bottom line, group your focus into small actions or big actions. This will help you find ways you can grow your medical practice and at the same time focus on your patients.
Small actions may be the best way to begin. Encourage your staff to consider small acts of kindness. For example, if complete disrobing isn't necessary and a patient seems uncomfortable, allow them to remove only the necessary clothing. Offer a drink of water to patients who are nervous. A simple smile or reassuring word can go far. Be sure documentation that is given to patients is correct and honest. If a procedure takes only 10 minutes but the wait before is longer, be forthright and say so. No patient appreciates when they're told a screening is only minutes long, only to have a two-hour wait before the tech is ready to run the test. Finally, staff who are proactive in offering support and thinking ahead when dealing with patients are rated highest in patient surveys, and offices find their patients are more likely to come back when they feel like they matter.
When deciding on small actions to carry out, look online. There are many agencies and organizations who dedicate their efforts to helping medical professionals develop best practices and improve the quality and efficiency of patient care. Groups like the California Quality Collaborative and The Institute for Healthcare Improvement have programs, guidelines and recommendations for large and small ways to focus on patient experience. The California Quality Collaborative has recommendations like notifying patients of all test results, whether positive or negative. This allows a patient to know they matter, to feel that extra effort from their caregiver. It furthers the relationship between client and their doctor, which in turn builds loyalty and repeat business. The Collaborative also recommends low-cost ideas like reviewing the visit schedule the day before to postpone or eliminate unnecessary visits, handling more than one concern during a patient's visit, and provide closure to every visit by summarizing next steps and action plans with them. Little details like this can make a huge difference in a patient's experience and go very far in building your business's success.
Big actions may have a higher investment cost up front but if chosen wisely can provide long term savings and positively impact patient experiences as well. Look at your office's waiting areas, both in the lobby and back where patients wait for procedures or where people wait for their loved ones to finish more intensive events like surgery or cancer treatments. These waiting areas should look like the experience you want your patients to have. Redecorating these areas can be costly but goes a long way in making patient-centered care an effective practice in your workplace. Consider adding pay phones in areas where cell phones don't work or aren't allowed. Hang art in areas that people sit to receive treatment, not just in corridors or spaces that people walk through. Another investment that shows great benefits is investing in communication skills training for your staff. Inter-staff and staff/patient interactions only get better when you invest in this kind of training.
The California Quality Initiative has ideas that also fall into the "big action" category. Implement referral agreements with other specialists so you always have a name on hand should a patient require care beyond what your office can provide. It takes time and effort to cultivate these referral relationships, but it's worth the effort when you know someone else is pointing potentially pointing business your way, and when you can provide a patient with a recommendation they know you've cultivated because you respect the other party's skills. Use electronic communication and quality information management software when you can. Investing in these systems and converting to them can be costly and time-intensive at the beginning, but as they become integrated in your office system, they become priceless and will be preferred by your staff. Electronic medical record software (EMR software) improves accessibility to patients records and allows for better patient-centered care. The best practice management software available will partner with your EMR software and provide a complete package to help streamline office practices and empower your staff to do a great job. These methods of managing and exchanging patient clinical and financial information have been found time and time again to add to a successful patient experience.
Whether small or big, taking action to improve your patient's experiences will not only ensure your medical business continues to grow, but also allow you to focus on your patients in a way that improves their health and strengthens their relationship with your office. You simply can't afford to ignore improvements like this!