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More Than a Survey: How to Holistically Embrace the Patient Experience

Despite the challenges that healthcare providers face and declining patient experience scores, several effective strategies can enhance their work to improve the patient experience and sufficiently satisfy expectations for care.

Decades.

That’s how long healthcare organizations have been surveying patients to understand their experiences and how they match up with care delivery. The drive to measure patient experience (PX) started in the 1990s, but patient survey distribution didn’t begin in earnest until the 2000s. Since CMS’ rollout of Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores in 2006, the U.S. healthcare system has kicked reporting into high gear and witnessed considerable progress in PX.

However, data shows that progress has mostly stalled. Logically, patient experience scores declined sharply in 2021 during the pandemic. But, according to The Leapfrog Group, even in 2022 as Covid drifted into the rearview with advancements in vaccines and other treatments, PX measures continued to drop for the second year in a row.

As a provider, how do you effectively reverse this trend as it becomes clear the pandemic isn’t the only catalyst? The answer certainly isn’t to continue using outdated systems for collecting and tracking insights. It lies in modernizing the engine behind your efforts – your patient experience program – to meet rapidly evolving expectations of the communities you serve.

Why are current PX measurement efforts falling short?

It’s important to first understand why PX is declining. There isn’t one distinct reason patients become dissatisfied with their level of care, but rather many friction points and challenges that culminate in less-than-positive feedback. Some include:

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  1. Outdated PX survey methods

Patient experience efforts aren’t “sticky” within healthcare organizations due to a limited understanding of what patients truly need and value. If PX initiatives aren’t fueled by up-to-date, accurate data and a comprehensive understanding of diverse patient populations, they risk only addressing surface-level issues without truly enhancing the overall experience.

The manual, paper-based surveys of old are tedious for patients, possibly damaging survey response rates. Redpoint Global found that 80% of patients prefer digital channels to communicate with their providers. Not only could outdated survey methods potentially disincentivize patients from filling them out, but they can take months to collect and analyze by survey vendors — far too long to make timely, data-informed decisions to enhance care delivery.

  1. Limited health survey questions

Health systems don’t just survey patients to improve care delivery. If they participate in Medicare-supported programs, they need to consistently include health survey questions relevant to HCAHPS and other quality measures to ensure they maximize their reimbursements.

However, restricting your patient survey to only questions required by CMS might not reveal the whole picture. These questions, for instance, don’t apply to pediatric patients or those receiving behavioral healthcare. Also, they only collect information on the inpatient experience at pre-determined touchpoints — offering providers a somewhat narrow scope of the end-to-end care experience.

  1. Suboptimal employee engagement

It’s well-established that better patient-provider relationships are more likely to yield more positive health outcomes. They also support better patient experience. But such connections require an engaged healthcare workforce.

If employees are not adequately supported, motivated, and aligned with a patient-centric vision, it can result in a disconnect between the intended experience and the actual interactions patients have with healthcare providers. This not only leads to more disappointed patients but could also encourage them to seek out alternative care providers.

  1. Underprioritized equity initiatives

Society is only as healthy as its most vulnerable community members. Partially spurred by the pandemic, the past several years have seen a widespread prioritization of ensuring everyone can access and receive high-quality, compassionate care.

But achieving more equitable healthcare is easier said than done. In fact, a recent report by the Rise to Health Coalition found most providers lack confidence in equity improvement efforts. Ultimately, leveling the playing field is a process. And it demands a deep commitment, empathic leadership, and the right strategies in place to yield real progress.

How can providers more effectively improve the patient experience?

Despite the challenges that healthcare providers face, several effective strategies can enhance their work to improve the patient experience and sufficiently satisfy expectations for care.

  1. Where possible, leave those paper surveys in the past. Meet patients where they are with SMS text messaging and convenient mobile applications to ensure they have highly accessible and usable interfaces to voice their opinions. The easier it is for patients to engage with your organization, the more they’ll feel heard.
  2. Care teams need insights they can actually have confidence in during patient care. Streamlining data collection is just one piece of the equation for advancing your PX program. How accessible that data is to your care teams is another key part of the puzzle. Adopt digital patient engagement platforms that display real-time patient survey insights they can leverage to make rapid improvements and continual, real-world progress.
  3. Traditionally, many healthcare workflows have revolved around the needs of clinical and administrative staff — partially or wholly leaving out considerations for the patient perspective. Implement strategies that put the patient first, including engaging them using preferred communication channels, adopting methods that enhance care coordination across providers, helping patients navigate fragmented care journeys, and supporting individuals before, after, and during appointments.
  4. Opt for solutions that generate insights from across demographics. Some people might encounter barriers to care that others don’t. To understand how to elevate the patient experience of everyone who comes under your care, analyze insights across race/ethnicity, age, gender, and other demographic categories to accurately assess disparities in experience. Actively glean social determinants of health (SDOH) data and use that information to start to address access challenges, such as lack of transportation.

For providers to be successful at PX, it doesn’t necessarily require a massive out of pocket spend. These best practices are enabled by technology that is easily adaptable to existing workflows. Younger generations – like millennials and Gen Z – are beginning to utilize the healthcare system more frequently. They make their decisions based on customer experience and prefer digital/mobile interactions when engaging with providers. Without a serious commitment to PX, providers could fail to attract new patients, and misappropriate care to existing patients.

Photo: designer491, Getty Images

Nikki Angeli MHA, BSN, RN, CPHQ, CPXP, is patient experience strategist at Feedtrail. Nikki is a seasoned ICU nurse turned healthcare consultant, with over a decade of diverse experience across various patient care settings. Holding national certifications in Patient Experience and Healthcare Quality, her commitment remains steadfast in upholding the highest standards of care and, as a dedicated lifelong learner, her passion for continuous improvement and innovative approaches aligns seamlessly with a focus on streamlining healthcare processes for optimal efficiency.

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