5 best practices to improve practice performance and patient satisfaction scores

Physician reimbursement is being increasingly impacted by patient satisfaction scores. Once, this was something only hospitals had to worry about, but now it’s affecting practices of all sizes. If you are participating in Medicare payment reform, known as MACRA, it may impact you even more.

But for those who are exempt, value-based reimbursement is the trend, and patient satisfaction will affect revenue, if it isn’t already. Unfortunately, getting those good scores is becoming harder. Patients are comparing their healthcare experience against their experiences in retail and the service sector. And, let’s face it, healthcare hasn’t been known for providing modern, super engaging, seamless experiences.

Still, one study showed that about half of patients expect the same customer service experience in healthcare that they get in retail. From the way patients find a provider—through online reviews—to the way they communicate before and after visits—via text—patients do want a more seamless digital experience.

And they are showing their frustration with a poor experience and communication by walking out. One in 10 patients left their primary care physician last year and one in three say they may leave in the next two years, according to Solution reach’s Patient-Provider survey. Nearly 40 percent of those who already left said it was entirely about experience.

Best practices
This trend shows it’s more important than ever to be able to track and monitor patient satisfaction and take steps to make improvements to meet the changing expectations of patients. To effectively gauge what patients think and identify areas for improvement, here are four best practices to follow:

Keep it simple: You can’t do anything about preset CAHPS surveys, but you can control the length and complexity of a patient survey you send out. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes to complete and should focus on a single topic, like their recent visit or changes you’ve made like new technology or services. Don’t do it all in one survey.

Be timely: For a post-visit patient survey, send it out within 24 to 48 hours. The sooner the better. You want to strike while patients remember their experience.

Get hard data: Avoid creating open-ended survey questions. It’s appropriate to have a spot at the end for additional comments, but you want to be able to easily analyze the data. Use multiple choice and “yes” or “no” questions. For example, don’t use, “Tell us what you thought of the wait time.” Instead, ask, “Was the wait time reasonable, yes or no?”

Go digital: Create and send your surveys electronically. People prefer online survey 30 times more than paper ones. Using a digital platform also allows you to automate the sending of surveys, personalize them to the patient, and easily see the results.

Where bad experiences happen
If you aren’t currently conducting patient surveys, then your priority should be to get one in place and start gathering data about your patients’ experiences.

This baseline information is what you can use to make improvements. There are many solutions you can use to generate electronic surveys, but one designed for healthcare will provide some preset questions that you can customize to your practice.

Also, consider editing or adding some questions to help you gauge how you are doing in addressing patients’ top frustrations. The Solution reach Patient-Provider Relationship Study identified a few key areas of poor experience from the patients who had left their provider in the last year.

These included:
• Poor experience with office staff
• Feeling more like a number than a person
• Difficulty scheduling (both wait times and availability of methods for scheduling)

Poor communication with the office
Take the opportunity to ask if staff were friendly, if patients found it easy to schedule an appointment, and if they received communications from the practice through their preferred method (i.e., text or email). If scores are low for friendliness, then you know this is an area for improvement. If lots of patients say they’d like to get communication via text and you aren’t offering that, then you know that is something to change.

Learn from results
Take this simple feedback and make a list of areas to work on. Then you can begin to tackle improvements. Some tips to make that process more successful include:

  • Group potential improvements into small changes and big changes. A small change might be something like temperature control and a big change might be service training with staff.
  • Tackle bigger changes one at a time. The little things like adding a coffee station to the waiting room can quickly be ticked off the list.
  • Get as much buy-in on the big changes as possible. Share the feedback from patients and ask for input on how to improve. Get the staff involved and engaged.
  • Be open to changes or upgrades in technology and processes to help address problems.

Build loyalty
Finally, make sure that as you implement changes and settle into new ways of doing things that you follow up to see what patients think. Surveys should not be static. If you’ve made changes, then change your post-visit survey or send out a single survey specifically about those changes. Following up shows patients you are committed to improving their experience and continues to engage them in the process. These types of ongoing interactions and engagement are a key way to build loyalty at a time when patients are more likely than ever to go elsewhere when they are dissatisfied.

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