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How to Improve Patient Experience Within Your Healthcare Organisation

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What Is Patient Experience?

The term “patient experience” encompasses all interactions a patient has with the healthcare system, ranging from communication with reception staff through to the care they receive from doctors and nurses.  

Patient experience is one of the NHS’s three key components for quality healthcare, with the other two being clinical effectiveness and patient safety. In practice, patient experience is the aspects of healthcare delivery that patients typically value highly when they seek and receive care, such as timely appointments, easy access to the information they need, and good communication with healthcare providers.  

Patient Experience vs Patient Satisfaction

While these two terms are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle distinction between them.  

When assessing patient experience, you would typically look to find out from your patients whether something that should have happened during their healthcare experiences actually happened, or how often it occurred. For example, were your patients able to book an appointment and be seen in a timely manner, or, was communication to patients clear?   

Patient satisfaction is based upon a patient’s own expectations of their healthcare and whether those expectations were met. Two people who receive identical care can have vastly differing opinions on it depending on what they expect from a healthcare experience. As a result, patient satisfaction ratings are often highly personal, whereas patient experience is about following a defined standard of care for your patients and assessing whether that standard was met.  

NHS Three Key Components

  • Patient Safety
  • Patient Experience
  • Clinical Effectivness

Why is Patient Experience So Important?

Understanding patient experience is a vital step on the path to establishing a patient-centric care model. By considering the various elements of patient experience, you can assess whether your patients are receiving care that is respectful of, and responsive to, their needs.

The Clinical Case

A positive patient experience is inherently valuable to your patients and their loved ones and is therefore an important outcome in its own right. However, good patient experience can also breed important clinical benefits and outcomes for patients. For example:

  • Good patient experience positively correlates to processes of care for both prevention and disease management. For example, according to research conducted in US hospitals, diabetic patients demonstrate greater self-management skills and quality of life when they report positive interactions with their healthcare provider.

  • Patients' experiences with care, particularly interactions with practitioners, correlate with adherence to medical advice and treatment plans. Research shows this is most prevalent among patients with chronic conditions, where a commitment from patients to work constructively with their carers is especially important in achieving a positive outcome.

  • Patients with positive healthcare experiences often have better treatment outcomes. Studies of patients with heart disease reveal a correlation between patients who view their care positively and better health outcomes a year after discharge.

The Business Case

Good patient experience also correlates with some key financial indicators, making it a win-win scenario for hospitals and GP surgeries increasingly stretched by austerity. To illustrate:

  • Research in the US has established a link between high-quality patient experience and lower overhead costs. There is also rising evidence to suggest that institutions that score highly for patient experience often have lower average costs per stay and shorter lengths of stay.

  • Improving patient experience can also help with staff satisfaction and, as a result, employee retention. The organised programme to improve patient experience in one hospital yielded a 4.7% reduction in employee turnover.

  • Finally, as patient choice becomes a key driver for the NHS, responding to patients’ preferences and looking to improve patient experience is increasingly vital. Research from the Picker Institute Europe reveals that it’s becoming more and more important to patients that they are involved in decisions about their care and feel that their preferences are being respected.

What’s more, when it comes to choosing a hospital for treatment, 40% of respondents to 2015’s National Patient Choice Survey listed their own experience, or that of friends or family, as the most important factor in their decision.

NHS Confederation

“Delivering a high-quality experience for patients should, without question, be a priority for all NHS organisations and be part of the fabric of everything they do.”

How Can Organisations Improve Patient Experience?

We’ve established what patient experience is and its importance to patients and healthcare providers alike, but how can your GP surgery or hospital go about improving it?  

Patient experience is broad and multi-faceted and often based upon localised variables—after all, every practice or hospital is as unique as the community it serves. But, while there isn’t a silver bullet or a one-size-fits-all approach to improving patient experience, there are several proven methods open to any organisation looking to boost patient experience. 

Queue Management and Communication

This may seem like an obvious one; after all, who likes queueing? However, communicating delays and managing queues better can have a sizeable effect on patient experience.

In his article, Psychology of Waiting Lines, former Harvard Business School Professor David Maister developed the theory that unexplained waits feel longer than explained waits, with the former causing increased anxiety and frustration among patients. Maister also posits the theory that merely explaining how long the wait is likely to be can reduce the “perceived waiting time” by as much as 35%. 

One way to better communicate with your patients is by using digital signage in waiting rooms. Something as simple as displaying up-to-the-minute information on likely waiting times or the order of the queue can help relieve stress and anxiety among your patients—providing obvious benefits for patient experience.

Alongside better communication about delays, shorter queues make for an improved patient experience. Obvious, but also easily attainable. For example, installing patient-self-check-in kiosks can cut the time patients take to check in, dramatically lessening the time your patients spend queuing as a result.

Some patient self-check-in-kiosks also include patient survey modules. The benefits of which are twofold: firstly, patients have an extra activity to help ease the boredom of waiting, secondly, this is a great time to garner patients’ opinions on their care—helping you to improve patient engagement and make informed decisions on steps to improve the patient experience.

A final benefit of patients being able to check into appointments quickly and easily themselves is that it is also likely to free up staff time and reduce pressure. This, in turn, has a positive ripple effect on patient experience: patients deal with staff who are less stressed and have more time to engage with them.

Patient Wayfinding

For a patient, finding their way around an unfamiliar hospital or clinic can be daunting, confusing, and frustrating, particularly if they’re in pain or feeling under the weather. So, a quick win for boosting patient experience is to ensure your patients have all the tools they need to navigate your hospital or practice.

A more practical (and modern) approach to helping your patients navigate your facilities is to go digital.

Introducing interactive maps or patient wayfinding kiosks that include ward directories and step-by-step directions can help your patients get to their destination faster and more efficiently. Digital maps have the added advantage of being easily updated as and when organisational changes are made—saving innumerable staff hours and ensuring your patients always have access to the most up-to-date information on where to find what they need.

Hospitals are a high-stress environment, so even something as straightforward as accurate directions for patients and their visitors is valuable as it gives patients one less thing to worry about at what’s often a trying time.

Overcoming Accessibility Barriers

We live in a diverse and culturally rich society, with over 300 languages spoken in the UK alone. So, key to positive patient experience is inclusivity and effective communication with the whole community. This means moving away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to patient experience and towards an experience tailored to the patient, especially those from vulnerable & under-served groups.

One particularly important barrier any organisation looking to improve patient experience must overcome is that of language. It goes without saying that if your patient’s healthcare is delivered in an unfamiliar language, they’re unlikely to feel involved or engaged with it, and equally unlikely to enjoy a positive patient experience.

Fortunately, modern technology is providing healthcare providers with tools to overcome language barriers. Increasingly, modern patient calling and digital signage platforms are equipped with translation functions, providing improved access to healthcare for patients who do not have English as their first language.

Another area in which patient experience has traditionally struggled is accessibility for deaf patients. As with the language barrier, the tools to counter this are available and becoming more commonplace. For example, patient calling has always posed a problem for those with hearing impairments but is becoming less of an impediment to a positive patient experience thanks to the use of digital signage in hospitals and practices.

Environment

The environment in which your patients wait and are treated is a key part of patient experience. Using simple design principles and techniques, it’s relatively easy to transform your waiting room into a calm and relaxing space for patients. Ranging from the colour of the walls to the seating arrangements, there are a few simple and inexpensive tweaks you can make to drastically change the ambience of your waiting area.

  • Colour - Use colours that are warm, inviting, and natural or that have a specific effect, think red for an energising mood or light purples for a calming feel.
  • Lighting - Soft lighting can contribute to a relaxing environment for patients.
  • Music - Music is a great tool for putting patients at ease and alleviating stress.
  • Seating - Consider patient comfort and confidentiality in your seating arrangements, for example separating reception from the waiting area (space permitting) can give your patients a heightened sense of privacy.
  • Reading material - Make a named person within the practice responsible for checking the condition and relevance of any magazines.
  • Poems - Research suggests that displaying poetry in waiting rooms can help patients relax.
  • Plants - The benefits of having plants in waiting rooms are well documented: plants mean cleaner air, reduction in stress (for both patients and staff), and a more natural and welcoming space.
  • Provide for younger patients - The experience of your younger patients can set the tone for everyone. So, providing toys that can be used quietly or children’s books can help bring a sense of calm and fun to what can be a nervous experience for young patients.
  • Make space for all your patients - Your hospital or practice is likely to cater to disabled patients and parents with prams, so make sure your waiting area has space to comfortably accommodate both.

    None of the suggestions above are ground-breaking, nor are they expensive, but they are effective in creating a more pleasant and accommodating environment for visiting patients. The logic is simple: if patients feel positive about the environment in which they’re waiting for treatment (often the first experience they have of your organisation), they’re likely to look more favourably upon the experience as a whole.

Staff

It goes without saying that your staff are probably the greatest determinant of patient experience (alongside clinical outcome). What might be more surprising is that many NHS staff agree that patient experience could be improved. Some even argue that the power of patient and public involvement is not being used as it could be to reshape services for the better. 

What’s more, NHS research suggests clear links between good HR practices, high staff engagement and improved patient experience. This means that any organisation hoping to improve the patient experience cannot ignore how its staff feel about their jobs. But what can you do to improve the way staff feel about coming to work and improve patient experience as a result?  

It’s widely acknowledged that stressed staff are less likely to have positive interactions with patients, so, the most obvious place to start is with reducing staff stress. One simple way to reduce stress is to give your staff more time—this means identifying and working on the processes and little things that take up more time than they really should and looking at ways to make them more efficient.  

To give an example of “shaving time”, consider the process of patient calling in many GP surgeries. For many practices, this still involves a receptionist or nurse calling the patient through to their appointment manually. Let’s say this process takes 20 seconds on average, which doesn’t sound like much, until you consider its cumulative effect. If the practice in question sees an average of 18 patients a day, that’s 6 minutes every day. For the average practice with 9 surgeries a week, it represents 54 mins every week spent calling patients through.  

So why not automate the patient calling process?  

Likewise, in a hospital setting, directing patients or helping them to find their appointments can be a drain on staff time. Like patient calling, hospitals and practices are increasingly looking to automate this process by installing interactive patient wayfinding kiosks around the site.  

However, efforts to improve patient experience through staff impact shouldn’t solely focus on making employees happier. There is also a lot they can do themselves to be more proactive in improving patient experience.  You could encourage your staff to develop a set of organisational standards or a manifesto regarding patient interaction. Alternatively, you could set up “in your shoes” workshops between patients and practitioners, to help them get a better handle on which behaviours drive (or hinder) positive patient experience.  

Other examples being used across the NHS include turning nursing stations into bays to increase visibility, monthly focus groups, and even patient diaries. However your practice goes about it, cultivating the relationship between your patients and staff is a vital part of delivering an improved patient experience.  

Patient Engagement

Research shows a growing demand from patients for a more participatory role in their healthcare and reveals links between positive patient experience and patients who feel involved in decisions about their care.  

In fact, patient engagement has become a crucial facet of patient experience and healthcare standards. The NHS now actively encourages healthcare professionals to work in partnership with their patients to ensure the right treatment and care is delivered to every individual. 

Increasing engagement goes far beyond face-to-face interaction between patient and doctor. It’s everything from the ease of the booking process, to delivering healthcare messaging in a way that resonates with your patients.  

Healthcare is just beginning to harness modern technology to this end, with positive results for both patient engagement and experience. For example, GP surgeries are increasingly making use of smart patient information screens and digital displays in waiting rooms. This may not sound like particularly revolutionary technology—after all, smart TVs have been available commercially for years—but in the context of healthcare, it has the potential to dramatically improve the patient experience and better engage patients with messaging.  

Smart content delivery gives practices the ability to provide relevant and engaging healthcare messaging while patients wait, in a format that grabs their attention. As a patient waiting for an appointment, are you more likely to read the 3-year old copy of the Radio Times on the table or watch the video on the latest public health concern playing on the display opposite? 

What’s more, many smart content offerings allow for customisable content.  This means your staff can be far more proactive in exposing patients to the latest public health campaigns, as well as providing content specific to their community.  

Patient engagement is not confined to entertaining patients with interesting content while they wait. It can also be about directly involving patients in their healthcare. For instance, simply giving patients their say through surveys can not only tell you how you’re doing on patient experience and identify things to work on, but it can also boost the patient experience, as patients feel listened to.  

A Bit of Background

Patient engagement as a concept originated in Professor Scott K. Simonds’s 1974 paper Health Education as Social Policy, which introduced the term “health literacy”.

Summary

We’ve looked at a few of the most effective methods of improving patient experience. While the list is by no means exhaustive, what’s hopefully emerged from the examples given is a common theme: the power of technology to improve the patient experience.  

Whether harnessed to provide engaging content while patients wait, help patients navigate your site, manage queues, or make healthcare accessible for all, technology has the potential to have a liberating effect on both your staff and patients alike.  

Alongside this, small changes to the way your staff view and act towards improving patient experience can have a huge impact. 

As the NHS moves towards a brave new world in which patient choice becomes ever more powerful, the very survival of many hospitals and practices may depend upon their ability to deliver an excellent patient experience. So, it’s crucial that organisations not only “get serious” about the patient experience but also that they use every tool at their disposal to improve it. 

Of course, improving patient experience requires the right technology.

At Jayex we have years of experience in helping healthcare organisations improve patient experience through our suite of patient-centric solutions. Whether your organisation is targeting queue management, patient wayfinding, staff efficiency and stress, or simply the content on display in your waiting room as a means of improving patient experience, our technology can help. To find out more, speak to one of our experts today.  

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