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How to Improve Communication So You Can Improve Satisfaction

Posted on May 9, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

In attempts to boost revenue, practices often find themselves mired in the complex tasks of generating marketing, improving scheduling, reducing inefficiencies, and more. And while these practice management pieces are important, sometimes we make things more complicated than they really need to be. When it comes down to it, the foundation of a financially-healthy practice is simple—keeping your patients happy.

Happy patients are the patients that show up—and come back. They’re the patients that refer you to their friends. They are the ones who leave those all-important online reviews. They truly are the bread and butter of your practice’s bottom line. Research backs this up—multiple studies have found a direct correlation between revenue and patient satisfaction. In fact, one study found that those healthcare practices delivering a “superior” customer experience achieve 50 percent higher net margins than those providing just an “average” customer experience.

Use Surveys to Uncover Problems

Obviously, creating a happy patient base is key to a successful practice. But how do you know if your patients are happy? Well, you ask them—in person, in focus groups, and online. The most effective way to gather this data, however, is through surveys. Surveys are an easy and efficient way to find out where you may be falling short.

And since a study in the Journal of Medical Practice Management found that 96 percent of all patient complaints are related to customer service rather than care or expertise, every person in your practice can be involved in making improvements.

Some of the most common complaints of patients include:

  • Excessive waiting times
  • Inadequate communication
  • Disorganized operations

Last month, I discussed the importance of reducing excessive wait times. You can read that article here. In this post, we will be exploring how to avoid those communication problems that lead to low patient satisfaction.

There are two main areas where communication tends to break down within a practice—between staff members and between the practice and the patient. How can you improve?

Communication within the Office

From the front desk to nurses to doctors and even to the billing department, it is critical that everyone within the practice works as a team to support your patients. Failure to do so leads to errors, confusion, and unhappy patients. Unfortunately, experts estimate that problems take place in 30 percent of all intra-team healthcare communication. There are some ways you can combat poor intra-office communication.

  1. Daily team huddles. A daily huddle meeting is not a full staff meeting. It is a quick (10-15 minute maximum) meeting where each member of your team gives a status report. It’s a great way to align your team and know what to expect that day. Do you know an incoming patient is celebrating a birthday? Just graduated? Do you have holes in your schedule? All of these types of issues can be addressed during a quick huddle.
  2. Escalation processes. While critical care specialties have an acute need for escalation processes, every practice can improve their communication by implementing a designated process for difficult or complex situations. Decide which situations in your individual practice may warrant extra care. Lay out a plan for handling and monitoring these situations. Include the way you refer patients to other offices and communication between practices as part of this process.
  3. Use of a standardized communication tool. While your daily huddle is a great way to get everyone together each day, it is also important to have ways to communicate in real time as new issues arise. Healthcare is definitely a dynamic environment—constantly changing throughout the day. The best way to make sure everyone stays on the same page during the busy day is through the use of an instant messaging app to make communication accessible at all times.

Communication Between Provider and Patient

The vast majority of providers work hard to communicate with patients. But the sad truth remains—patients struggle to remember your instructions. One study showed that patients only recalled 40 percent of the information they were given. Even worse, around half of what they did remember was actually remembered wrong. This means that the way information is conveyed to patients is just as important as the actual information communicated. There are a few tips to improving your communication with patients.

  1. Use open-ended questions. When speaking with a patient, make sure to ask questions that leave room for patients to expound on their thoughts. Yes or no questions often leave many things undiscussed.
  2. Read non-verbal cues. Much of the communication that takes place between a patient and their provider occurs through nonverbal communication. So pay close attention to the patient’s face and their body language. After explaining something to your patient, do they look confused? Are they worried? If so, there is a good chance they will not follow your instructions. Follow up based on the body language of each patient.
  3. Use the teach-back method. One of the best ways to ensure your patients have a good grasp of the things you’ve taught them is to ask them to teach you. This may take an extra few minutes, but can have a lasting impact on patient outcomes (and satisfaction!).
  4. Continue communication between visits. Communication does not end when a patient leaves the office. Continue sending educational tips and encouragement through regular newsletters, social media, and email.

Communication is one of (if not THE) most important component of the patient-provider relationship. It is also the cornerstone of the financial success of every practice. Effective communication helps practices and patients better understand each other and develop a closer bond. It makes for not just healthy—but happy—patients.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff.

Addressing Common Patient Frustrations: Wait Times

Posted on April 11, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

Experts agree that it is critically important that practices keep their finger on the pulse of patient satisfaction—and one of the best ways to do this is through patient surveys. However, the question remains: what should a practice do if a survey reveals there is a problem?

It is of utmost importance that any issue found in a survey be studied and addressed. Interestingly, the vast majority of patient irritants do not relate to the quality of care at all. In fact, a study in the Journal of Medical Practice Management found that 96 percent of all patient complaints are related to customer service rather than poor care. Some of the biggest complaints include:

  • Excessive waiting times
  • Inadequate communication
  • Disorganized operations

Over the next few months, we will be digging in to each of these topics in depth. Today we will start with the top frustration of patients: excessive wait times. These long wait times, often associated with poor time management, are also some of the major criticisms reported by respondents of the Patient Provider Relationship study. Check out some of these numbers:

  • Sixty-eight percent of patients say that the wait times in their medical office are not reasonable.
  • Sixty-six percent say that they have to wait too long to schedule an appointment.
  • Sixty-eight percent say they feel like messages are not returned in a timely manner.

The problem is only getting worse. Average practice wait times have risen by 30 percent since 2014. Unfortunately, the common patient response to long wait times is simply to change practices. Around one in three patients say they are likely to find a new medical practice in the next couple of years. So how do you reduce long wait times?

  1. Understand how long is too long. Studies have found that about 20 minutes is the maximum amount of time a patient is willing to wait before becoming frustrated. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 53 percent of physicians say patients at their practice typically wait for more than 20 minutes. If you are not sure where you stand in terms of wait time, carefully track your wait times, both in the waiting room and the exam room. There are a variety of programs and apps that can do this for you. Or if you’d prefer to go old-school, you could acquire a supply of timers. When a patient checks in or is taken to the exam room, simply press the START button. Keep an eye on the timers and recognize when a patient has waited longer than is optimal.
  2. Provide clear communication. One of the easiest fixes for long wait times is often overlooked—communication. Eighty-six percent of patients say that if they were told in advance about a long wait time that they would feel less frustrated. So make sure to let patients know if the doctor is running behind schedule. You can also consider shooting off a quick text message to incoming patients if your office is running very late. If you are tracking wait times, make sure to acknowledge the inconvenience and apologize when the wait goes longer than 20 minutes. This would minimize frustration for nearly 70 percent of patients.
  3. Improve front desk workflow. Melanie Michael, lead author of a study that looked at interventions for lowering patient wait times found that one of the critical factors in reducing wait times was the front desk management. She noted, “[At one practice], we found that these people were trying to answer phones, field questions from patients in the waiting room, check patients in, secure insurance info, and many other tasks.” Automation of these tasks enables practices to get patients seen by the physician faster and more efficiently. Appointment reminders, scheduling, and check-in are all processes that can (and should) be automated.

Wait times are directly correlated to the satisfaction of patients. If your patient survey finds that people are feeling annoyed about the wait at your office, make changes now. If you wait too long, you may find you have no patients left.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff.

Easy Tips to Understand and Leverage Patient Survey Results

Posted on March 14, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

Multiple studies have shown that surveys are critical to the economic health of medical practices. Experts say that using surveys to improve the patient experience can be a strategic differentiator for practices.

To read more about the increasing role of surveys in reimbursement, profitability, and quality care, check out this post from last month.

Once you’ve started sending out regular patient surveys and getting consistent responses, it’s time to take action. In order to get the most out of a survey, it is critical to analyze the responses and implement changes based on the results. Here are a few tips to get started.

Figure out how many survey responses are needed.

Any time a survey is sent, there must be enough responses received to have a “statistically significant” result. Obviously, if only one or two patients respond to a survey, those answers will not be a true picture of how patients view a practice. What is considered “statistically significant?” This will vary by practice size.

Start by finding out how many active patients visit your practice—for now, don’t count any inactive files. Of course, it would be amazing if every single patient responded to the survey, but that is pretty near impossible. Instead, each practice must decide what margin of error is acceptable to them personally. The greater margin of error found to be acceptable, the fewer responses needed to be statistically significant. For example, if a 10 percent margin of error is okay with you, only 100 out of 3,000 patients need to respond. If, however, a three percent margin of error makes you more comfortable, you would need 810 responses out of 3,000.

Use the following table as a basic rule of thumb when deciding how many responses are needed:

Leverage technology to calculate the hard numbers.

In order to easily understand survey results, responses need to be converted into percentages or averages (depending on question type) and formatted in a way that makes it easy to compare responses. For example, it doesn’t mean much that 281 respondents said that they had a poor experience. If, however, that number is converted into 40 percent that had a poor experience, it is much easier to recognize a problem. Survey answers should be imported into a system that analyzes the results and converts these into simple statistics. Fortunately, it is common for the platform used to originally send the survey to do this automatically. Many will also include trends over time, highlighting if problems are worse or better during certain times of the year. If the survey-sending platform does not include an analysis tool, there are a huge number of programs (including free tools) that can accomplish this task. Even programs like excel work perfectly fine for this.

Take action.

Great—you’re starting to get a feel for what patients think. But now what? Far too many practices collect incredibly valuable information only to sit on their hands and ignore it. But for a practice to really thrive, it is crucial to set goals and objectives based on survey results. After all, patients are communicating what they want. It’s up to you to see how you can accommodate their needs.

My favorite goal creation method can be remembered by the word SMART.

  • Specific– Select a specific goal, being as clear as possible.
  • Measurable– Decide how you will measure the success or failure of your goal.
  • Achievable – Do you have the time, money and resources to complete the goal?
  • Relevan– Not every goal will improve your business. Pick one that will make a real difference.
  • Timely  Set a realistic deadline for goal completion.

Let’s consider a real-life example. A common survey question for healthcare practices is, “How long did you wait to be seen?” If the score comes up as higher than ideal (typically more than 20 minutes), improvements are needed.

This is where SMART goal setting comes into play.

  • Specific—Set a specific goal. For instance, “Our goal is to lower wait times to 15 minutes.”
  • Measurable—Decide how to measure the result. Will you be timing the waits yourself? Will you send out a follow-up survey?
  • Achievable—Set goals that can realistically be accomplished. If your average wait time is over an hour, for example, trying to adjust that to just 15 minutes is probably not currently achievable. Try to set smaller improvements and over time you can reach your ultimate goal.
  • Relevant—Look at the goal you’ve created. Will lowering wait times improve your business? Don’t set goals that won’t really have an impact on your long-term success. In this case, reducing wait times will have a positive impact on your business so it is a relevant goal.
  • Timely— Set a realistic time frame. It probably won’t happen in a week, but you may not want it to take a year. Three months may be the right timeframe to make improvements. Check back at that point to see if you achieved your goal.

As practices consistently strive to make changes based on survey results, the patient experience will improve dramatically. Because setting specific improvement goals is so important to practice success, over the next few months I’ll be addressing some of the most common patient frustrations uncovered on surveys. I will include SMART goals to improve these frustrations and boost patient satisfaction.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff.

The Increasing Role of Surveys in Reimbursement, Profitability, and Quality Care

Posted on February 14, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

Delivery of high-quality, patient-centered care has become the hallmark of the medical industry. The most commonly used indicators for measuring the quality of care are patient satisfaction and the patient experience. How patients feel about their experience is critical to overall practice success because it has been proven to impact health outcomes, patient retention, and medical malpractice claims.

The emerging standard for measuring patient satisfaction is the use of patient surveys. Patient satisfaction surveys are not only important when required for reimbursement, but also for practices focused on improving their patient-centered care (that should be everyone). A well written survey can be a very powerful and reliable tool. It can provide more information about what is going on in your practice. It demonstrates that your practice is working to improve. It shows patients that quality is your focus.

What are the key reasons that every practice should start implementing patient surveys?

Patient Surveys Increasingly Drive Reimbursement

Because both practice and hospital reimbursement are increasingly tied to health outcomes and patient satisfaction, patient surveys have become the go-to guide for improving the patient experience.

Currently, CMS (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) uses the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey to measure how patients feel about their hospital experience. They then take those results and compare them to hospitals locally, regionally and nationally and assign them a score. Those scores have been a big part of the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing program for nearly six years.

This past year, we have seen the implementation of MACRA. Under MACRA, physician and hospitals patient satisfaction scores are calculated. By 2019, these scores will impact Medicare reimbursements.

It is highly likely that this trend towards survey-based reimbursement will continue to grow. Even if your practice is not currently required to use patient satisfaction surveys for reimbursement, it is probable that you will at some point in the future. By sending out surveys now, you can get a better handle on changes that need to be made to secure high scores for future reimbursement.

Patient Surveys Increase Profitability

High patient satisfaction levels impact a practice’s profitability for reasons beyond just reimbursement. Studies have found a significant correlation between high patient satisfaction and the overall profitability of a practice. Consider this:

  • A good patient experience significantly lowers your risk of a malpractice suit. In fact, for each drop in satisfaction score, a provider is nearly 22 percent more likely to be hit by a lawsuit.
  • One surprising effect of an improved patient experience is reduced staff turnover. Because a better patient experience often involves implementing more efficient and effective processes, staff are able to work in a more pleasant environment. One provider saw their turnover rate drop 5 percent after efforts to improve the patient experience.
  • A good patient experience leads to lower patient turnover. This one is more obvious. Today’s consumer-minded patients are looking for a great experience. One study found that practices with poor patient-physician relationships are three times more likely to move to a new practice than those with good patient-physician relationships.

It’s easy to see why the use of a patient survey to track and improve the patient experience is quickly becoming best practice. As Joe Greskoviak, president and COO of Press Ganey explained, “We are seeing a shift in the way organizations look at the engagement of their patient populations. The ability to use patient experience as a competitive and strategic differentiator to gain market share is a valuable tool,” Mr. Greskoviak said.

Patient Surveys Lead to Quality Improvement

As dozens of studies have found, there is quantifiable evidence that tracking the patient experience leads to quality improvement in multiple ways. These studies have found that:

  • A good patient experience improves both prevention and disease management. In one study, diabetic patients increased their ability to self-manage their disease and, subsequently, improved their quality of life simply due to a good experience with their provider.
  • Positive patient experiences lead to a higher likelihood of care adherence for the patient. This is especially true for those with chronic conditions who meet regularly with their provider.
  • Patients who have a good patient experience and a positive view of their provider have better health outcomes compared to patients that have poor patient experiences. Heart attack patients who were highly satisfied with their practice saw significant improvements over their less satisfied peers one year post-attack.

Understanding how your patients feel through patient satisfaction surveys is an invaluable tool. These surveys can be as important to the success as your healthcare credentials. If implemented and used properly, a patient survey can help you increase profitability, healthcare outcomes, and reimbursement.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff. Learn more about the Patient-Provider relationship survey here.