What do patients want and value most from healthcare professionals?
Healthcare ecosystems around the world have been put to the test in previously unimaginable ways in the last year or so. In their interactions with healthcare providers and payers, patients now wield far more power than they did previously. Massive digital technology growth, combined with service experiences in other industries, means it’s critical to successfully establish a clear understanding of people’s expectations to deliver public or private healthcare.
Although the terms “patient satisfaction” and “patient experience” are often used interchangeably, they are not synonymous. To assess patient experience, it’s important to ask patients whether or not something that should occur in a healthcare setting, such as clear communication with a provider, occurred and how frequently it occurred. On the other hand, satisfaction is concerned with whether a patient’s expectations regarding a health encounter were met. Because of their different expectations, two people who receive the same care but have different expectations for how that care is supposed to be delivered can give different satisfaction ratings.
Patient satisfaction is an important measurement that can help guide quality improvement in healthcare, and the patient-centered care movement emphasizes patient involvement in clinical decision-making. Elmhurst University has designed its online degree programs around the tenet of patient-centered care and evidence-based practice, with the belief that patient-centered care in nursing allows patients to feel involved, respected and empowered in their healthcare.
However, “patient satisfaction” is not well defined, and patient beliefs are not always evident in health surveys.
According to research, there is a slight variation in responses to standard questionnaires about care quality, with 85-90% of patients being “satisfied.” While some patients may critically evaluate their care, others are willing to accept subpar care before expressing dissatisfaction. As a result, a “satisfied” response can indicate varying degrees of satisfaction for different people. Gaining a thorough understanding of how patients define and describe satisfaction will likely lead to a better understanding of their experiences and serve as a springboard for more meaningful changes to improve services.
A positive patient experience is a worthwhile goal in and of itself. Furthermore, substantial evidence suggests there is a positive relationship between patient experiences, such as good communication between providers and patients, and critical healthcare outcomes. These outcomes include patient adherence to medical advice, improved clinical outcomes, improved patient safety practices and lower utilization of unnecessary healthcare services.
What patients want
What patients want from their doctors is a complicated question. Not all patients are the same, and expectations will differ from one person to the next. Understanding general trends and correctly setting expectations can go a long way in influencing patient experiences. Patients are often dissatisfied with a one-size-fits-all treatment approach, so some of their most essential expectations need to be identified in order to facilitate kind and equitable care.
One of the most common reasons patients switch doctors is a communication breakdown. Communication with a care provider is critical in an adverse situation, such as an infection after a procedure or a complication during treatment. Unfortunately, many providers restrict or cut off communication during this time, leaving patients and families confused and fearful.
Communication between patients and their healthcare providers must be honest and open at all times, especially in an emergency. Patients and their families must be able to express their concerns and fears openly while also believing that their provider is looking out for their best interests.
It is understandable if a doctor does not know everything about a patient’s illness or diagnosis. Still, patients expect their doctors to share as much information as possible. Uncertainty is acceptable as long as patients understand the truth. Doctors should always inform patients about the success rate and risks associated with related procedures.
Do your patients feel like they’ve just left a speech or a conversation after an appointment? Discussions, rather than lectures, benefit a patient’s health. Patients want a doctor who values their input, listens as they describe health issues and symptoms, and asks follow-up questions to determine the root cause of their illness. It is never beneficial to anyone involved if you constantly rush through appointments. Medical staff should listen to patients without interrupting or making them feel rushed.
It is not difficult to improve patient communication and patient engagement. It only takes a few extra moments to address concerns, answer questions and make sure that patients truly understand the information given to them. In addition, communication is a critical factor in many healthcare legal cases, so ensuring that your staff communicates effectively with patients is an investment in your practice and its future.
All patients, young and old, share a desire for convenience. Even those who did not grow up with the internet recognize the advantages of living in a digital world where you can find, access and pay for almost anything online. As a result, if their condition allows, many patients prefer to find, book and receive care from healthcare professionals online. According to a study, patients prefer virtual video visits to office visits for convenience and travel time. The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for remote healthcare services that patients could access from their homes. According to survey results from last year, this trend may last far beyond the pandemic.
Patients prefer healthcare professionals who are close to their homes for in-person visits. Because most patients work during the week, they value healthcare professionals who provide care after hours or on weekends. Telehealth can provide this service, giving patients the convenience they need to prioritize their health. Many patients also want convenience when scheduling a healthcare appointment in a simple, widely used and secure manner.
Aside from primary care, consumers seek institutions that offer various services in one location. Healthcare providers with multiple clinics for obstetrics, gynecology, cardiology, ophthalmology and other specialties are in high demand. This is more convenient for patients with numerous comorbidities and saves time traveling to different locations to receive these services. Multidisciplinary teams within hospitals can also be more efficient and collaborative when developing a healthcare strategy. Patients who prefer a more cohesive team to provide assistance will choose such facilities.
Individuals have control over many aspects of their lives, including their healthcare. They prefer healthcare professionals who treat them as partners or peers in healthcare management. Patients want providers to treat them as a whole person, not just their symptoms or medical conditions. They want collaborative healthcare management that includes them in every aspect of the developed care plan.
Incorporating digital technology into healthcare has created numerous opportunities for information sharing and access. For example, medical practices can use practice management systems to share information and receive and give updates. Physicians can also serve as partners by educating patients about their treatment options, which may or may not include medications. Patients want options and expect each option to be thoroughly explained before making a decision.
People are frequently rushed when they visit their doctor. Traditional doctors, despite their best efforts, treat patients as time slots rather than people, which needs to change. The most important thing people want from their healthcare providers is time. More one-on-one visits result in more detailed personal care, leading to more accurate diagnoses or prescriptions.
One way the direct primary care model differs from traditional practices is by providing doctors with 24-hour access via phone, text or email. There is also no limit to the number of visits you can make, and your time is spent almost entirely with the doctor rather than sitting and waiting for nurses or doctors. If your appointment is at 8:05, you can be confident that it will begin on time rather than waiting far past your scheduled appointment slot.
Some patients feel that they never receive more than a second glance at a doctor’s appointment. They often encounter doctors who are glued to their clipboard or computer the entire time they are in the room. This is because a traditional doctor’s office treats patients as numbers on a queue rather than as individuals. Handshakes, direct eye contact and holding the door or elevator for others have all fallen out of favor in recent years, making eye contact difficult to come by. Of course, taking notes during an appointment is essential, but connecting with patients should come first.
The first meeting between doctor and patient can be clinical. However, according to a study, most patients want to shake hands with their doctor and have them introduce themselves by first and last name. In the same survey, other characteristics that patients valued from their doctor included smiling, being friendly, being warm and respectful, and being attentive and calm.
Going to the doctor’s office is still a frightening experience for many people, especially if there is any uncertainty. Patients’ minds are racing with questions like, “What’s wrong? What are my alternatives? Are these even viable alternatives? How much will this set me back?” Anything you can do to put patients at ease and meet their needs will be appreciated. Patients want certainty about things like their expected wait time, next steps for their appointment and cost.
For example, 84% of patients believe wait times are crucial to their overall experience, and 43% believe wait time is the most frustrating aspect of a doctor visit. So why not simply work to reduce wait times? For the most part, it may not be feasible. To minimize wait times, more doctors must be hired, fewer patients must be accepted or less time must be spent with each patient. A better strategy would be to provide patients with clarity and to set expectations for their appointment. For example, 53% of patients say that knowing the length of their appointment ahead of time would change their attitude toward the appointment.
You can easily connect with your patient by asking about their daily routine or eating habits. This interaction fosters a sense of connection, demonstrating to patients that you care. Always try to get to know your patients and build strong relationships with them. If the patient is at ease, inquire about personal histories, daily routines and lifestyle preferences. It’s important for patients to feel connected to you, as they are more likely to follow your instructions and return to your practice.
When a doctor treats a patient, it is not only about the medicine. It’s about the whole person – their thoughts, feelings and the doctor-patient relationship. One of the most effective ways to improve patient experience is for doctors to demonstrate compassion and build strong relationships.
If your patient is cold, make arrangements for a blanket. Get some water if they’re thirsty. Impressive offices and cutting-edge technology are useless unless these underlying human needs are addressed. Instead of spending money on a fancy ceiling and lighting, hire medical staff who treat your patients with compassion and dignity. Patients will also be willing to wait if they get what they want. Patients are dissatisfied not because they had to wait 30 minutes but because they did not receive what they expected during their consultation with you. If you make your patients wait 45 minutes for an appointment and only spend five minutes with them, they will feel ignored and disrespected if you engage in such behavior.
Continuity and consistency of care and the development of trusting, empathetic and dependable relationships with competent and knowledgeable healthcare professionals are critical to patients receiving effective, appropriate care. To support high-quality care, relevant information should be shared among professionals and across healthcare networks.
Of course, each doctor-patient relationship is unique. However, the themes emerging from ongoing research shows that simple behaviors can significantly impact the patient.
As many industries strive for superior customer service, healthcare providers must follow suit. Unfortunately, patients are less forgiving of providers who cause negative experiences. Customers in the healthcare industry are becoming accustomed to specific standards and benefits, such as 24-hour service and mobile access. The ideal experience is based on clinical and personal factors such as convenience, customer service and staff attitudes.
Price is no longer the only factor that consumers must consider when making a purchase. They are more likely to select a hospital or doctor based on personal experiences rather than financial costs. In addition, patients expect healthcare providers to treat them with dignity and to perform high-quality, safe procedures. The information gap is also closing as internet-savvy consumers conduct online research on hospitals, clinics and processes and arrive with questions and expectations.
Other things people expect from healthcare include continuity of care and smooth transitions. These necessitate planning and coordination. They may not require ‘integration’ into the organization. Coordinated care systems should be better able to deliver the other things patients need: quick access, effective treatment, respect for their preferences, support for self-care and involvement of family and caregivers by efficiently deploying multi-professional resources.
Patients appreciate healthcare professionals who recognize their uniqueness and the unique way each person experiences a condition and its impact on their life. Patients’ values, beliefs and circumstances affect their expectations of, needs for, and use of services. Therefore, it is critical to recognize that individual patients are living with their conditions.
The opportunities to provide patients with what they need, where and when they need it, and with the right tools to bring it all together are vast across the care continuum. Their overall experience can influence a customer’s loyalty. Like any other service, patients return if they feel at ease and recommend their doctor to friends and family. The voices of healthcare customers may be the best-kept secret, but that is changing as consumers gain more control over how their healthcare dollars are spent, exercising power to vote with their feet and wallets. Hospitals and insurance companies compete for loyal customers. Customers are more likely to return if they are satisfied.