Todd Shryock, contributing author
With more healthcare costs being shifted to consumers, they are expecting more from their providers.
With more healthcare costs being shifted to consumers, they are expecting more from their providers. A physician that doesn’t pay attention to patient happiness may lose patients or receive lower satisfaction scores, both of which can cost a practice money.
A recent survey by West, a healthcare communications company, identified that 25% of patients do not have a strong sense their provider cares about them as an individual and one in five respondents is not entirely convinced their provider is focused on improving their health.
“It’s that kind of dissatisfaction that is driving more consumer-like behaviors in healthcare,” says Allison Hart, chief market research and insights strategist for West. “More than three in four told us they have freedom of choice for healthcare providers where they may not have seen that as much before. Now, they are looking at a value decision and are not going to go to a setting where healthcare providers are not meeting their expectations.”
The survey shows consumers are not afraid to leave an established relationship with a physician, with nine in 10 saying they will change providers if not completely satisfied, and 74% indicating they will put off scheduling an appointment or otherwise delaying care when they aren’t satisfied with their provider.
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“This can have a financial impact on providers, especially as payment models are tied more to satisfaction scores,” says Hart. “The financial stakes are high if patients aren’t satisfied or are switching to another provider.”
While some physicians may understand that patient satisfaction is playing a growing role in their compensation and success of their practice, the survey shows a disconnect. “The things providers are doing are not necessarily what’s important to drive satisfaction,” says Hart.
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.”