By Allison Hart, vice president of marketing, West.
Americans expect customer service to be fast. Whether they’re at the bank, the airport, their doctor’s office or elsewhere, they don’t like to be kept waiting. When waits are long, consumers are disappointed – or worse. But like it or not, consumers know waiting is probable in certain situations. For example, patients have come to expect they will have to wait when visiting healthcare providers. They aren’t wrong. In the U.S., the average in-office wait time when visiting a doctor is 18 minutes and 13 seconds, according the 2018 Vitals Index report.
Despite their best efforts, healthcare providers and organizations haven’t been able to eliminate waits in healthcare offices. Doing so may not be realistic. However, healthcare teams can minimize waiting and deliver better patient experiences by being more transparent about delays and communicating proactively with patients.
A majority of Americans feel healthcare keeps them waiting more than other industries. A West survey of 1,036 adults and 317 healthcare providers in the U.S. revealed 83 percent of patients believe healthcare organizations are more likely than companies in other industries to run behind schedule or keep them waiting. Think about that. Airlines frequently run late. When they do, passengers can be delayed for hours, or even sometimes days. So, why is healthcare the industry known for making people wait? It may be partially due to how healthcare communicates, or rather doesn’t communicate, about delays. Here are two communication strategies healthcare teams can use to repair their reputation and give patients better experiences, even when they must wait.
Binary Fountain released the findings of its second annual “Healthcare Consumer Insight and Digital Engagement” survey with the goal of getting an updated view into how patients search, evaluate and share their experiences with their physicians. The survey shows an increase in patients’ dependence and reliance on online ratings and review sites to make informed healthcare decisions.
Americans Are More Comfortable Sharing their Healthcare Experiences Online
Today, social media platforms are being used to discuss and share all elements of a person’s life, which now includes healthcare experiences. The survey results showed that consumers have become increasingly comfortable with sharing their personal healthcare experiences online. In particular, millennial consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 are the most active over social media and are the most inclined to share their healthcare experiences online.
According to the survey, 51 percent of Americans say they share their personal healthcare experiences via social media, online ratings and review sites, a 65 percent increase from the 2017 survey results. Specifically, 70 percent of millennials have shared their physician or hospital experiences online, and 68 percent of “young millennials” between the ages of 18 to 24 said they have shared their healthcare experience online — a 94 percent increase from last year.
The survey finds that Facebook is the most used channel to share healthcare experiences for ages 25 to 54. However, unlike last year, consumers between the ages of 18 to 24 say Google is their preferred online platform to share their healthcare experiences. In 2017, survey respondents between the ages of 18 to 24 selected Twitter as their most used channel to share healthcare experiences.
Growing Dependence on Online Ratings and Review Sites
The survey shows that healthcare consumers continue to depend on online ratings and review sites. More and more, consumers are seeking online healthcare advice and relying on unfiltered, transparent patient feedback to determine whether a healthcare practitioner or practice is worth a visit. The below survey results reflect the true impact that online ratings and review sites have on consumers, as well as, the continued rise in healthcare consumerism.
Ninety-five percent of respondents find online ratings and reviews “somewhat” to “very” reliable with 100 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 find online ratings and reviews “somewhat” to “very” reliable and 97 percent of respondents between the ages of 25 to 34 do as well.
Likewise, 70 percent of Americans say online ratings and review sites have influenced their decision when selecting a physician, and even when referred by another doctor, 41 percent of consumers still check online ratings and reviews of doctors and specialists.
Of the respondents that utilized websites/platforms to choose a physician, 34 percent selected hospital and/or clinic’s website as a primary source, followed by Google (29 percent), WebMD (18 percent), Healthgrades (15 percent) and Facebook (12 percent).
Expectations Remain High for Patient Care
Patients today have high expectations for customer service and bedside manner. The survey examined, through multiple-answer questions, what factors matter most to patients when rating or evaluating a physician. The survey results revealed:
Consistent with the 2017 survey results, 48 percent of Americans across all age groups selected “a friendly and caring attitude” as the most important factor.
Whereas, 47 percent of consumers selected “ability to answer all my questions” followed by 45 percent of consumers who selected “thoroughness of the examination” as the most important factors.
Overall, 52 percent of women believe “a friendly and caring attitude” is the most important factor, while 45 percent of men believe “ability to answer all your questions” is the most important factor.
By Gary Anderson, a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.
When you “Google” your practice’s name, are you satisfied with the reviews that pop up? If not, chances are that your main issue has nothing to do with the patient care you give and everything to do with the patient service you provide.
You know the saying, “The customer is always right?” Patients especially feel that way. So, if you fail to give them the top-level treatment they seek when they’re feeling the most vulnerable, your reputation will suffer. And let’s face it: In the healthcare industry, your reputation is everything.
Make sure that your staff thinks more about why they are there, not just what they are doing. This is where proper training and management come into play. If each employee understands his or her unique purpose at your practice and sees it as important, this will have a positive impact on the patient service you provide.
See Your Practice through the Patient’s Lens
Take the necessary steps to experience what your patient does at your practice. For instance, park exactly where the patient does. Is it easy to reach your building’s front door, even for someone on crutches? And when you enter the reception area, do you automatically receive a warm greeting or a cold shoulder? Patients have already made up their minds about your practice before they even get to the exam rooms. So, be sure that what patients experience in the front of the office is just as favorable as what they’ll experience in the back.
Teach Employees How to Address Patient Complaints
Every one of your employees should know how to handle patients’ concerns or complaints effectively. For instance, your employee shouldn’t be quick to tell a patient “I don’t know how to help you.” Instead, he or she should eagerly say “I will find you somebody who can help you ASAP.” Then, the employee should follow through on what he or she has promised. This will make a huge difference in how the patient perceives your practice.
Get Comfortable with Saying “Sorry”
“Sorry” can be one of the hardest words to say. Nonetheless, it is a word that every employee in your office should learn. Your employees need to become comfortable with apologizing for any service lapses that a patient points out, rather than being apathetic or defensive. Using training devices such as role-playing can help to make “sorry” a more natural part of your patient’s language when appropriate.
Focus on Being Blame Free
Realize that if an issue crops up in your practice, your employee is not necessarily always to blame. Sure, if it occurs once, the employee might be at fault. But if the mistake happens twice, your system might be at fault. So, investigate the system, and fix any glitches you see. Your employee will be happier, and this translates to happier patients and ultimately a happier you.
Guest post by Dr. Jennifer Yugo, chief scientist, Corvirtus.
This is a time of tremendous growth and change in healthcare. As in any industry, growth sparks competition as patients have more and more providers from which to choose. From the supply side, this means increased competition for new, repeat, and referral patients. Simultaneously, providers are being pressed to reduce costs while improving the patient experience as they compete for market share.
Healthcare is becoming more competitive as patients have more choices and better information about their choices, especially through social media. To compete, providers have to focus on delivering quality service, a compelling patient experience, and – like competitors in retail – generate buzz.
Our research shows that a healthcare provider’s employees are the most significant contributor to delivering quality, being compelling, and generating buzz. The first component of this formula is ensuring you are hiring the right people. These are employees who perform, fit, and stay.
Pre-employment assessments are widely used across other industries as a key ingredient to quality. Healthcare is a final frontier where personality tests can be leveraged to improve individual and team performance, reduce costs, and most importantly, improve and differentiate patient care.
Sadly, healthcare positions are often viewed as “The Untouchables” where intuition and gut-instinct for hiring and management are used over evidence-based best practices. Following our intuition often results in hiring the wrong people – those who do not perform, are difficult to work with, and either quit or get fired.
Turnover is a huge component of costs and an obstacle to improving care, as well as the patient experience. With shortage of 68,000 primary care physicians predicted by 2025, consider the cost of turnover for one physician:
What do Disney, Apple, Southwest Airlines, Mayo Clinic, USAA, Amazon, Pandora, and Kaiser Permanente have in common? They all sell the same thing.
Whoa! That’s crazy talk. What’s that you say?
Yes, each of these organizations knowingly and deliberately differentiates and competes on customer experience. In fact, each one delivers the best customer experience in its respective industry, as measured by Net Promoter Scores.* Whether delivering immersive entertainment, personalized radio or healthcare, these companies make an emotional connection and engage their customers in extraordinary ways.
Within healthcare the importance of the patient experience cannot be overstated. Our personal health and well-being is synonymous with happiness and is manifest in our personal experience. For many of us, being sick, in pain or in fear for our life (or the life of a loved one) tends to heighten our perceptions and amplify every experience. It’s during such times when a kind word can seem like a grand benevolence, and the slightest oversight feels like a cruel insult. As such, providers should invest as much energy in delivering the best possible customer experience as they do in delivering safe and effective treatment.
Patient satisfaction is not patient experience
The Beryl Institute defines patient experience as “the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care.” Unfortunately, the standard method for measuring patient perceptions about healthcare is a collection of survey questions. Don’t get me wrong; we need a consistent method for assessing patient perceptions to make apples-to-apples comparisons between organizations. The Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS**) survey offers healthcare consumers and financers just that – information by which to make such comparisons. However, the subjective survey data alone is insufficient for providers to fully comprehend and then systematically improve patient experiences.
I won’t belabor the difference between patient satisfaction and patient experience here, but I will draw your attention to Fred Lee’s work on this subject. Lee aptly compares Disney with American hospitals in his best-selling book If Disney Ran Your Hospital: 9 ½ Things You Would Do Differently. I strongly encourage you to invest 17 minutes watching his funny and exceptional TEDx talk on the fundamental difference between patient satisfaction and patient experience.