Deliver Positive Patient Experiences in Healthcare

David Carty
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Healthcare panel talks patient experience from the ground up

Turmoil defined the state of healthcare workers and providers in the last year. There was no shortage of steep challenges, as care professionals learned a new way to interact with patients and provide services.

If the healthcare industry has found stability in anything, it is change. The “new normal” is still taking shape, and it will be the adaptive, innovative healthcare providers that both thrive and provide efficient care for their customers.

One way patient care is evolving is through telehealth. According to a recent Applause survey, more individuals used telehealth services in the past year than ever before. That’s a trend unlikely to change, as 63% of respondents said they expect to increase their telehealth usage in the future. As more patients turn to this digital form of care, it is incumbent upon providers to give them the full range of services — with as few usability hiccups as possible.

Applause survey results of patient experiences in telehealth. 46% of respondents used telehealth services in the past, while 84% did so to avoid in-person activities during the pandemic.

In a webinar called Exploring the Digital Opportunities and Obstacles for Providers, innovators in the healthcare space discussed high-priority initiatives and objectives for their companies moving forward.

Priorities for healthcare providers

There are plenty of areas for healthcare companies to focus their attention, said Jared Rankin, Strategic Account Manager, Healthcare at Applause. Top priorities for many hospital systems include innovation in:

  • Digital front door

  • Telehealth and virtual care

  • Patient and provider experiences

  • Using digital to manage the care continuum

  • Healthcare IoT

  • AI/machine learning

  • Healthcare data management

However, it all starts with the customer journey and experience. As the healthcare panel discussed, these experiences are becoming more digital in nature, which presents more of an opportunity for a business to succeed or fail in what it delivers to patients.

Modern healthcare involves many digital systems, yet so much of the patient experience is still analog. Patients are asked to fill out paper-based forms, often containing redundant information, visit after visit. For reimbursement, the patient may need to fill out and mail or fax a paper form.

These analog experiences might feel inconsequential, but it’s an experience that completely ignores the customer’s perspective. To make matters worse, it’s often the first of many missteps in the customer journey: billing can be unclear, waiting rooms can be stuffy, and appointments can take months to schedule – all for a customer who often doesn’t want to be there in the first place.

Start with the patient experience

So, what does a good patient and provider experience look like? These are the questions that Lisa Williams, Senior Director, Growth and Loyalty at PeaceHealth and Mark Schumacher, Senior Director of Digital Experience at Banner Health, are trying to answer.

One of the first keys is to get different departments involved in the conversation. Positive patient experience isn’t a switch you flip; it’s a multi-tiered approach that requires a companywide commitment. At PeaceHealth, a positive experience means working with the service line leadership, operations, finance, business side and clinic managers. It’s about understanding the touch points end to end.

“We're going to be looking at our dashboards as a group of people who are having different touch points with our consumers and patients throughout their experience, which will allow us to have a more holistic view of that experience and to identify where we're dropping the ball, or where we're creating friction,” Williams said.

Consider the example of a touchless appointment check-in. To the customer, it’s a relatively simple and straightforward end result, but there are often a number of complex and integrated systems to make this experience work well, especially across different kinds of care providers and offices.

Four key factors Rankin identified in the webinar to a good customer experience include:

  • Speed

  • Quality

  • Accessibility

  • Usability

These are known priorities within many businesses, but categorize the many points of friction a customer can encounter. It’s important for healthcare providers to gather direct and indirect information from the user to understand their preferences and habits. For example, if a wide range of diverse people complain about the navigation on a web page, or if you have high bounce or exit rates, those might signal a poor user experience.

At Banner Health, Schumacher said the focus is on testing early and often, often prototyping to acquire user insight early in the process. As they discover points of friction or the industry changes over time, they can refine their design strategy.

Williams said she inherited a project at PeaceHealth that involved similar work. “The team did a really nice job of asking really good questions, really trying to understand user behavior and then creating hypotheses about what tasks that we want to focus on,” she said. “How do we want to improve people finding care, people paying the bill, people looking for a location. And so we're really excited about kicking off that work.”

The point of the work is all to achieve a humanistic end goal: easier and more efficient care for customers. Seems simple enough, but it turns the dichotomy of the traditional patient experience on its head.

“All healthcare institutions across the nation, it's often relied upon for the patient, the customer, the consumer to understand healthcare, as opposed to healthcare understanding the patient,“ Schumacher said. “[We want to flip] that, because often it's the siloed healthcare experiences that you end up with.”

Where we go from here

Healthcare providers learned lessons from the pandemic — often hard lessons about what it takes to provide an effective, or even functional, digital patient experience. The survey results above hint that telehealth and digital care are here to stay.

But there’s still work to be done. On one hand, 77% of respondents said their telehealth service was easy to use — a positive sign. But, in a separate question, 48% said there were features they would have liked to use that their telehealth service did not provide.

You can’t predict public health trends, but you can anticipate and adapt technology needs. Applause helps its healthcare customers stay ahead of the curve, rather than react to it.

With the Applause Product Excellence Platform, you can choose from enterprise-grade products and solutions that help you achieve your digital objectives. Whether that’s localized testing where your patients live, a specific request for users with a particular insurance provider, early feedback on a new health portal or an end-to-end analysis of the patient journey, Applause is ready to help you deliver exceptional results.

“Even though it seems like you might not need to do user testing because, ‘Oh, we've done this before, we know the common UX practices,’ there's always a finding that you didn't expect from user testing,” Schumacher said. “Whether it's something about accessibility that you didn't consider or the happy path, there's always going to be some findings that are going to be helpful, even if they're not the findings that you expected to get.”

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