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What is the ‘patient experience’ like at your medical practice?

You may have come across the term, “patient experience” lately and assumed it is equivalent to “customer experience” in other industries.

Although there are similarities between the two terms, there are also major differences.

Everything that happens in a customer experience is applicable to the patient experience, says Jason Wolf, president of The Beryl Institute, a global community of practice and premier thought leader on improving the patient experience in healthcare.

But in the patient experience, he says, “you are dealing with the health and wellbeing of a human being or their family member.”

There is an element of humanity in the contact that’s distinct from a transactional experience, Wolf tells Medical Office Manager.

Elements of the patient experience

The Beryl Institute defines patient experience as, “the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care.”

Understanding what is meant by “the continuum of care” is essential to understanding patient experience. “Experiences don’t start and end within the boundaries of your own organization,” Wolf explains. Patients come in with experiences.

As a result, it’s important for medical office staff to be aware that they don’t operate in isolated moments. In other words, the medical experience is ongoing.

Interactions are those touch points that drive experience, Wolf says. With this in mind, a medical office manager should think about how every interaction is meaningful and positive, from hearing about the practice to ensuring that there’s the best structure for interactions.

“Those interactions are built on the culture that’s delivering care,” Wolf says.

Therefore, a medical office manager should make sure that the right people are on board, that the right behaviors are clarified, and that the right expectations are set. By doing this, a manager builds culture.

If you do those things right, you can influence patients’ perceptions, Wolf says.

“The other piece of perceptions is asking,” he says. “A lot of times we don’t ask.”

Asking patients about their perceptions allows a medical practice to get a clear picture of what people’s expectations are, Wolf explains. A quick exit survey and follow-up can provide a great deal of insight.

The office manager’s role is critical in driving patient experience, Wolf tells Medical Office Manager.

A change in mindset

If it all sounds very logical, it’s because it is. Why then does the patient experience get neglected or overlooked at medical practices?

According to Wolf, this happens when it “becomes a thing to do.”

“No one would deny we have too much to do in healthcare already,” he says.

But, the reality is in doing all those things patients have experience – they are already having the “patient experience.” As a result, medical practices need to shift the mindset, Wolf says, to one of, “experience is what we are as a healthcare organization.”

“We have to reframe the way we think,” he says.

An emotional connection is required, as is an engaged staff. Connecting and building that relationship should be at the heart of what a medical office staff does, Wolf says.

When educating staff about the importance of a positive patient experience, it is helpful to tie patient experience to revenue.

As an example, Wolf tells of an elderly patient who showed up at a physician practice for a pre-op appointment. The receptionist was so rude to her that she left the office and found another physician.

In today’s environment, these kinds of situations are becoming more common.

Research from PwC Health Research Institute finds a combination of factors are coming together to create patient demand for revamped healthcare experience: increased cost sharing; the push for value by healthcare organizations and the government; heightened desire for “on-demand” healthcare; information access; and healthcare reform.

For medical practices, the implications are significant.

“Experience drives choice and we want people to choose our practices,” Wolf says. “People are making choices based on how they’re treated, and that’s real dollars.”

Getting staff on board

With this in mind, Wolf recommends that a medical office manager create a process, and make sure the right people interact with patients. And he recommends giving the process a trial run by having a staff member go through the process, almost as a secret shopper. “I’m a big advocate for sort of walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” he says.

One step in the process might involve having staff sit in the waiting room for an extra 20 minutes.

How will this help improve the patient experience? It might get someone to come out after 10 minutes and tell patients why there is a delay and when they can expect to be seen.

When meeting with staff to discuss the patient experience, Wolf says a medical office manager should talk about the broader opportunity: A positive patient experience results in better healthcare and can improve our revenue—and revenue affects our jobs.

What a manager doesn’t want to do is think of patient experience as an initiative. “This is not something we’re doing, it’s who we are,” Wolf explains. “I am the patient experience. You don’t ‘do’ the patient experience. You are the patient experience. This is who we are, each and every day.”

To make sure all staff members have the same understanding, Wolf recommends that a medical office manager clearly defines what the patient experience means for the practice and puts that definition in writing so all can see, including patients.

The reality is, you’re already having a patient experience, Wolf says. The goal is to make it an intentionally designed encounter.

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