Improving the Patient Experience: Five Things Every Patient Wishes Their Physician Knew

Although the number of COVID-19 cases has lessened in recent months since the start of 2021, the pandemic continues to be on the minds of healthcare providers across the nation. As a result, it’s easy for a provider to lose sight of one simple truth: the quality of the patient experience can make or break a practice, says Stacy Hurt, patient experience consultant and accomplished healthcare executive.

In honor of National Patient Experience Week this last week in April, we asked Stacy for her thoughts on how recent events have affected the patient experience and what advice she would give to providers in this area, particularly what patients wish their healthcare providers knew to provide a better experience.

“If there’s one thing that COVID-19 has shown us, it’s that anyone can become a patient overnight,” says Hurt. “Practices really need to differentiate themselves and leave a lasting impression.”

This is challenging for two reasons, she says. First, 25% of Americans don’t have a primary care physician, according to a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine: This percentage increases annually and disproportionately among younger people, says Hurt. Second, many patients self-diagnose based on information they read online.

How do these two challenges affect the patient experience?

“A trusting, long-term relationship can be lacking, and one’s judgment of the patient experience is based on an acute episode of care,” she explains. “Physicians have one shot, and it better be a good one. If it’s not, it will lead patients to these flawed conclusions that they don’t need a doctor because they can do it themselves.”

Hurt speaks from personal and professional experience. Professionally, she spent more than two decades working in healthcare administration. Personally, she is the primary caregiver for her intellectually/developmentally disabled 15-year-old son and a stage IV colorectal cancer survivor. As a patient experience consultant, she makes focused recommendations to ensure a best-in-class patient experience.

We asked Hurt to describe five things patients wish their physician knew that would greatly improve the patient experience. Here’s what she said:
 

1. ‘I want to be treated as a person—not just a medical record number.’


“Patients want their entire personal situation to be heard, felt, understood, and taken into account before developing a treatment plan,” says Hurt. “It’s pointless for a physician to develop a plan of care that a patient isn’t going to follow because it’s outside the scope of what they’re capable of doing due to certain factors.”

For example, if a physician says a patient should lose weight, have they considered the socioeconomic, cultural, or mobility barriers that might stand in the way? Does the patient have transportation to get to the grocery store? Do they have the financial means to eat nutritious food? Are they located in a food desert? All these questions matter, says Hurt.

Likewise, using direct eye contact, asking candid and personal questions, and mirroring is also critical, says Hurt. “At a very basic level, it’s about empathy—making patients feel like they are the only person you’re seeing today.”
 

2. ‘I may need help.’


“Make sure patients are educated on what you’re asking them to do,” says Hurt. A large part of the patient experience is feeling as though physicians and staff fully explain diagnoses, treatment options, and next steps. Frequent touchpoints and communication is key to a more positive experience, she adds.

Equally as important is educating patients about how to use new technology such as the patient portal, telehealth, or remote patient monitoring devices—particularly as more care shifts to the home environment, says Hurt. Everyone in the practice should be able to answer questions and guide patients on a path for success. This includes front desk staff who can ask patients whether they understand what comes next and whether they have any questions about their discharge summary.

Finally, don’t assume that patients have access to the Internet or smart devices, says Hurt. Physicians may need to devise alternative treatment plans that take social determinants of health into consideration, she adds.
 

3. ‘The waiting room matters more than you think.’


“You can make very simple, low-budget changes to the waiting room that are going to greatly enhance the patient experience,” says Hurt. A fresh coat of paint, comfortable chairs, outlets for charging mobile devices, and hand sanitizer dispensers go a long way, she adds.

Likewise, what is the patient experience while waiting for a telehealth appointment? Are they able to see where they are in the queue or approximate wait times? Practices need to think about this as they continue to forge ahead with telehealth, says Hurt.
 

4. ‘The words you document matter to me.'


"As patients continue to have more access to their own health information, the words that physicians use have an impact," says Hurt. Physicians should consider learning more about how to document with patients in mind or spelling out abbreviations (e.g., using ‘shortness of breath’ instead of using the acronym SOB).
 

5. ‘I want you to believe in me.'


Fundamentally, Hurt says patients want two things: Hope and options. “Hope begins with you believing in them so they can believe in themselves,” she says. “The more choices you give them to navigate their situation, the better. They want to know that you’re going to be in it with them together.”

For more information on how to create a superior patient experience while growing your practice, download Kareo’s free guide here or visit us at Kareo.com/patient-engagement for solutions on boosting patient engagement in your practice.

About the Author

Lisa A. Eramo, BA, MA is a freelance writer specializing in health information management, medical coding, and regulatory topics. She began her healthcare career as a...

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