The top five priorities for patients identified by the survey were shorter wait times (50%), advance knowledge of treatment costs (49%), not feeling rushed during an appointment (47%), providers having a high level of expertise treating a specific illness (44%) and easy-to-schedule appointments (41%). Only two of those patient priorities made the list of what providers are actually working on: easier appointment scheduling (68%) and keeping wait times short (62%). Providers also listed ensuring staff is friendly (73%) improving communication with patients (54%) and providing a clean and modern facility (48%) as priorities, but these were not as important to patients.
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“The efforts may need to be improved in these other areas, but they may not be impactful as providers think,” says Hart, who notes the survey did not explore the reasons behind the disconnect, but thinks it is likely from a lack of communication and not asking patients what is important to them.
The top three patient priorities all reflect the growing consumer-mindset in healthcare, says Hart, and all can be improved with better communication efforts. For example, shorter wait times can be addressed similar to flight delays—advance notice that allows someone to make alternate plans and adjustments to their schedule.
“A very simple thing providers can do with technology they already have in their appointment reminder system is to send patients a message if the schedule has changed,” says Hart. “High-deductible plans are making healthcare more worrisome in general for patients, and being unsure about costs is making them dissatisfied.”
Using the same appointment reminder system, practices can add a message in the appointment reminder that insurance will only cover a portion of the visit and they should be prepared to cover their out-of-pocket expenses. “It may not even be a specific amount, but even just addressing it and getting the patient mentally prepared can go a long way,” she says.
Similarly, telling patients in advance via the appointment reminder system to make sure they are on time and ready with any questions for the care team can help them maximize their time with the physician, making the appointment feel less rushed. “These are simple things a provider can do now,” says Hart.
With the consumerization of healthcare, physicians need to understand what their patients think is important and focus on improving in those areas to avoid losing patients and reimbursements tied to satisfaction scores.
“The winds are shifting, and if anything, these consumer-focused trends are gaining momentum,” says Hart. “It’s going to continue to be this way—it’s not going to go back to where the patient isn’t at the center and patient experience isn’t a high priority.”