As a clinician, there are two excellent reasons you should improve your patient experience skills: Patients demand it, and payors reward it. 

While you may acknowledge the truth of that statement, you might also be wondering how to turn the concept of improved patient experience into practical reality. In part 2 of our series on improving the patient experience, we invite you to follow these five tried-and-proven recommendations for starters:

1. See Your Patient as Quickly as Possible and Immediately Introduce Yourself

One of the chief complaints from patients regards the time it takes to see a doctor. To remedy that, see your patient as quickly as possible.

Set a positive impression by being present when the nurse first starts their assessment (or arriving even before they begin). You can bet the nurse and the patient will take notice.

Another frequent complaint from patients is that in the mix of providers and other staff they encountered during their visit, no one ever told them who their actual doctor was. An easy fix is to introduce yourself right off the bat. Even better, take a second to write your name on a whiteboard in the room.

2. Apologize for Wait Times

Long wait times rank high on the list of patient complaints. Even if there isn’t much of a wait, start every conversation with an introduction and apology. “Hi, I am Dr. Richter. Sorry you had to wait. What can I do for you?” This is a helpful way to lessen a patient's frustration.

3. Be Present: Sit Down, Acknowledge Everyone in the Room, and Make Sincere Eye Contact

Several studies show that when a provider sits at the bedside, rather than stands, while discussing a patient’s history, the patient perceives the provider has spent significantly more time with him. Sitting down also offers a spatial benefit, putting you and the patient on the same level, allowing you to have a conversation without being overbearing. Also, make it a point to acknowledge any family or friends in the room, introduce yourself, and smile. The action denotes a sense of respect and courtesy.

Also, be mindful that although accurate charting is particularly important, avoid staring down at and writing in your chart the entire time you’re conversing with the patient. Look them in the eye when you ask questions and when you listen, and then look down to enter information.

4. Continually Communicate Your Thoughts

Continuous communication with patients and their families is one sure way to improve satisfaction. Let them in on your differential diagnosis, what you think is likely and unlikely, and how you plan to narrow down the list. Let them know if you’re anticipating admission or discharge so they can begin to make plans.

For example:

“Your chest pain could be any number of things, but we’re going to try to narrow it down. You might have a problem with your heart or lungs, so we’re going to do a chest X-ray and some blood tests. It also might be a problem with your stomach or esophagus, such as heartburn. To be safe, we need to do several tests, and I may need to have another doctor see you just to make sure. Do you have any questions at this point?”

5. Explain Test Results

When your labs and tests are back, and you have decided regarding treatment, discuss it with the patient and family.

Return to the room to let them know why you decided to admit or discharge, and explain the test results. Sit down and answer any questions from the patient or family, and then finish your time with them by asking if they have any questions.

After you have answered these questions, ask if they have any more. Do this until they run out of questions. Finally, stand up, thank them for their patience, and ask if there is anything you could have done better to make their experience more positive.

Two tips to keep in mind when speaking with patients:

Don’t use “doctor speak” — It's very likely your patients won’t understand the medical terminology that is second nature to you. Simplify your vocabulary and shorten sentence lengths to a level that an average sixth-to-eighth grade student could easily comprehend. 

Patients who better understand their conditions and your recommendations are more likely to take a greater interest in their care. They will ask questions, follow recommendations, and feel less intimidated, making for a better overall experience.

Show compassion and empathy — What you communicate to the patient and his or her family is one thing, but how you do it is another. Express empathy in the way you speak, ask for feedback (to ensure they understand what you told them) and listen to their responses with minimal interruption. 

With the high-intensity activity that often characterizes life in the ED, taking time to stop, look, and listen is priceless. It shows respect and demonstrates that you value the patient as a human being.

SCP’s Patient Satisfaction Programs

Having a high-quality interaction with ED doctors and staff leaves the patient with a better impression of the ED and hospital, increases survey scores, minimizes malpractice risk, and fosters a relationship of trust that can lead to your hospital becoming the place patients go to for their health care needs for a long time to come. And, improving the patient experience and ensuring patient satisfaction is at the heart of Schumacher Clinical Partners’ mission — treating all patients with dignity and respect.

Over the years we have monitored key emergency department metrics, including operational efficiency, quality of patients’ clinical care, and the satisfaction of patients’ experience in the ED. We have also developed several proprietary programs and resources designed to ensure our providers and clients receive the highest scores possible. These include: medical director leadership training, an EM and HM integration playbook, our patient navigation program, telemedicine services, our provider portal, patient satisfaction toolkits, patient billing resolution practices, and an exclusive myPoint patient satisfaction on-site feedback tool.

The programs and tools we offer are all part of a coordinated effort to make each patient encounter consistently positive and ensure patients recognize the high level of care they receive.

For a real-life example of how a major university system increased patient satisfaction and created a better work environment, click here.

Conclusion

As a provider, you have the opportunity to make an impact on hospital performance and patient satisfaction by not only providing high-quality clinical care but also by focusing on communicating clearly and compassionately. By highlighting and enhancing key aspects of the patient experience, you can help make each encounter more consistently positive and ensure that patients recognize the high level of care they receive and reward you with higher satisfaction scores as a result.