Improving the Patient Experience: What I learned Reading 3,000 Patient Yelp Reviews
I was a bit sad last week and it took me a little while to figure out why. In preparation for this treatise on improving the patient experience, I had read thousands of Yelp reviews from patients at dozens of health systems. What I read had deeply affected and saddened me. At QueueDr, one of our main three core tenets is to never make the same mistake twice. First time you make a mistake, maybe you were trying something new or just forgot the right course of action. But making the same mistake again meant that we weren’t learning, we were being lazy, or ignorant.
At specific health systems, I kept reading reviews that illustrated the same mistake over and over, for years and years. If you are a health system executive, practice manager, or patient experience director you have looked at the numbers. You know that, “Most of the concerns represented in the complaints related to humanistic rather than technical aspects of care.” But, reading individual patient reviews is much more powerful. We will cover the main obstacles in improving the patient experience and what you can do about it via patient reviews.
Why Improving the Patient Experience Matters
The reason QueueDr exists is because there is a market inefficiency. There are more patients than providers can care for. The problem is getting worse as evidenced by the average patient wait time rising 30% from 2014 to 2017. There is a bleak rationalization that because there is very limited competition, patients don’t have options. They can’t go anywhere else. So why focus on improving the patient experience? Why not focus on increasing profits or market share?
There are three reasons why improving the patient experience should still be at the top of your list even if you can get by with a poor patient experience. First, it’s the right thing to do. Almost everyone who is dedicated to healthcare believes this, otherwise they wouldn’t be in healthcare. Second, it’s more profitable to have a good patient experience. If your number one concern is profit, improving the patient experience will get you there. Just like with any other business, treating your customers well is good business. For example, shorten your patient wait times and patients don’t go to the ER. Improve patient communication and patients don’t need as many appointments. Third, with the rise of technology, health systems may face competition sooner than they think.
Four Focus Areas for Improving the Patient Experience
Improving Patient Scheduling
When reading Yelp reviews, improving patient scheduling was one of the key pain points stressed. In fact we’ve already written about it extensively.
Improving patient scheduling means being more organized with your appointment types and templates. Here is a phenomenal guide to help you do that. In addition, providers need to match their supply and demand. The number of patients demanding new patient appointments should match the number of appointment slots available. However, health systems struggle with schedule optimization because it is quite hard for manual oversight. As a result, patient wait time becomes quite long!
Shortening Patient Wait Time
Reading all these Yelp reviews, I would often see health systems earnestly reply to negative reviews. Patients appreciate engagement with their reviews. However, there was only one type of review I never saw health systems reply to, reviews about patient wait times. In fact, long patient wait times often popped up even in positive reviews. We’ve written so extensively about long patient wait times you’d be forgiven for being a bit worried about us. Just read The Definitive Guide to Patient Access. However, we will not stop until this is addressed!
The key is shortening patient wait time is an automated patient access solution. Every other patient access solution that requires even a bit of human interaction will leave patients behind. We found that the average patient who uses QueueDr is over 50 with 20% above 70 years old. Making sure ALL patients can shorten their wait time is vital. Not just those who can download apps. I want to share a particularly heartbreaking Yelp review. Many health systems think of long patient wait times as a positive or not that bad, this review shows the human cost. Don’t just shorten patient wait time because it reduces patients no-shows (Here is how to decrease patient no-shows if you need help), do it because it means better patient experience.
You want a better patient experience? Talk to your patients as if they are people. You are (checks Google Analytics) a healthcare executive so you aren’t personally answering the phone. Bump the salaries of your call center manager and call center employees 20%. Then increase your requirements for call center hiring. If you are outsourcing it, don’t. Patients aren’t writing about their negative patient experience with the doctor, but mostly with the call center. Many patients complained about expected communication that never came. Most often that is test results, patient appointment reminders (here’s our guide), billing notices, or referrals. Put simply, improve patient engagement to improve the patient experience.
Read Yelp reviews and the amount of patients who talk about non-transparent pricing, late billing, and bankrupt inducing (yes) bills is depressing. I don’t know much about medical billing, but there are some people that do. https://www.appliedmedicalsystems.com/5-medical-billing-tips-to-improve-collections/ and https://www.appliedmedicalsystems.com/5-medical-billing-tips-to-improve-collections/. As we talked about above, at the very least, communicate with patients on billing! Answer their questions with patience, no matter how angry they are.
Improving the Patient Experience in an Age of Patient Consumerism
Patient consumerism has patients “bypassing physicians when obtaining medical information, goods, and services” at an unprecedented level. Improving the patient experience is vital to make sure that patients aren’t forced to rely on the internet and come into the office.