Study: 81% of Patients Are Unsatisfied with their Healthcare Experiences. Are Yours among Them?

patient experience, customer service, branding

Think your practice provides a great patient experience?

You might want to revisit the question.

According to a recent study by Prophet and GE Healthcare Camden Group, 81% of consumers surveyed indicate they are unsatisfied with their healthcare experience. That’s a lot of unhappy patients, which, by extension, makes it highly likely that many providers are doing a poorer job than they think.

Even more telling, perhaps, the study revealed a significant gap in patients’ and providers’ relative perceptions of the experiences they share:

When asked if providers take the time to understand their needs and explain options,

  • 51% of providers agreed
  • 34% of consumers agreed

When asked if providers have an empathetic medical and administrative staff,

  • 57% of providers agreed
  • 36% of consumers agreed

Overall, 63% of providers feel they deliver a high-quality patient experience, but only 40% of consumers believe they get one, a 23% gap.

That gap, says Jeff Gourdji, co-lead of Prophet’s healthcare practice, suggests that,

There is a misperception among providers about how well they are truly meeting consumer expectations. Although they acknowledge its importance, providers are finding it challenging to focus on patient experience in the face of so many competing priorities.

Part of the problem can no doubt be traced to the fact that patients and providers tend to define “the patient experience” differently. Viewed from a medical perspective, it makes perfect sense to link it tightly to the medical care provided and the outcome achieved. But for patients, the “experience” requires a much broader definition, because it encompasses everything from their initial contact to how they’re treated during visits to the level of post-care provided.

Two other factors may exacerbate the issue. The first is what’s known as “optimism bias,” the human tendency to believe that you’re less likely to experience a negative event or outcome compared to others. Take perceived response times to online patient contacts, for example. According to RealSelf research, many doctors believe they respond to online inquiries within 24 hours, even though just one out of five patients surveyed reported receiving such a timely response.

The second factor refers to those aforementioned “competing priorities.” Faced with a bulging pipeline of new products and devices, increasing pressure from a broadening array of providers, and other systemic changes, it’s no wonder that even those practices that recognize the importance of the patient experience are hard-pressed to address it.

The folks at Prophet and GE suggest a three-point approach to doing so:

Fix what’s broken: Poor response times, indifferent employees, excessive wait times — read a few negative reviews and you quickly see that many complaints have nothing to do with the medical care received. In fact, unhappy patients who post negative reviews of their doctors on the internet complain about poor customer service and bedside manner four times more often than about misdiagnoses and inadequate medical skills. Eliminating these pain points can go a long way toward improving satisfaction scores.

Surprise and delight patients: Just as little irritations detract from the patient experience, little gestures can significantly enhance it. Proactively addressing patients’ larger needs — convenience, timely communication, on-demand accessibility, etc. — demonstrate your respect for them as people leading busy lives, as well as your interest in them as potential patients.

Brand it and they will come: Between increased competition and rising commoditization, the need to differentiate yourself from the doctor down the street is more important than ever. (Thanks to the boundary-busting nature of the internet, the same is true for the doctor across the country.)  Combined with points 1 and 2 above, clearly delineating your practice philosophy — who you are, how you approach patient care, etc. — helps patients determine whether your unique value proposition will serve their particular needs.

Obviously, this is not a one-and-done kind of deal. Providing an enhanced patient experience is an ongoing process and one that should permeate patients’ entire decision journeys. The good news is that while some doctors may feel that expending resources on providing a better patient experience comes at the expense of other priorities, it can actually have the opposite effect. Think about how excessive wait times translate into more wasted time — for both patients and practices — and how conveniences like self-scheduling allow staffmembers to provide more personal attention to patients when they walk in the door.

As Laura Jacobs, president of GE Healthcare Camden Group, puts it,

Creating better and more holistic experiences doesn’t just mean happier patients. It translates to increased capacity, lower operating costs, improved financial performance, and higher employee satisfaction and retention. For healthcare providers, the key to profitability and longevity lies in their ability to deliver a superior consumer experience.

Make that a superior patient experience.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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