How Optimizing the Patient Journey In Hospitals Improves Experiences
There are many benefits to improving the patient experience in hospitals. Yet, it’s consistently remained a challenge for healthcare organizations everywhere—especially now.
In particular, COVID-19 exposed many shortcomings in the healthcare industry. In early 2021, many hospitals reported they were operating in “survival mode,” as the pandemic amplified their inefficiencies. Likewise, the same can be said for Americans’ dissatisfaction with the U.S. healthcare system. The pandemic only made things worse.
Given the fragile state of post-pandemic healthcare (and an overwhelming consensus that it’s in need of repair), it’s unsurprising that patients are disappointed. However, for your clinic, this isn’t sustainable. For one, it can be costly to lose patients due to non-compliance, dissatisfaction, or both. Plus, another harsh reality is that when they leave, they leave with potential referrals.
Still, you can avoid these painful losses and start changing healthcare delivery for the better. Keep scrolling for ways to optimize your organization’s patient journey so you can improve the patient experience.
Understanding the Patient Experience
“The central reason for the existence of the health-care industry is to care for the patient: to manage their physical, psychological (emotional/mental), social, and spiritual health needs as presented.” —Dr. Patrick Oben, MD, hospitalist at MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center
As a healthcare organization, you know that caring for patients is a complex but central part of your business. The same can be said for the patient experience. Like providing quality care, you have a duty to ensure a good patient experience—but what does that entail?
Overall, most patients agree that a positive experience centers around your ability to connect with them as humans, or your ability to have empathy and compassion.
However, flustered staff, long wait times, and communication barriers reflect the opposite. When employees and patients are already frustrated with a post-pandemic healthcare system, your inefficiency only fans the flame. This can lead to dire consequences.
First, patients won’t want to come back. This can harm their health, since they won’t maintain treatment. Plus, along with lower compliance, bad operations can do a number on your reputation. You also risk losing staff, putting yourself in the same situation as thousands of other healthcare organizations during the Great Resignation.
Fortunately, there’s a way to curb some of these scenarios. By finetuning the patient journey, your hospital can create an environment that satisfies more patients.
Track the Patient Journey
The patient journey is a cycle filled with many touchpoints. Each touchpoint is an opportunity to win your patients’ favor—but even one downfall in the process can sway their opinion otherwise. To ensure each interaction with your clinic is exceptional, you need to track the entire patient process.
1. Before Patients Arrive
Prior to appointments, patients may have anxieties pertaining to their health or past experiences in other hospitals (or even yours). Nothing can be more frightening than a health scare, and nothing can be more frustrating than a bad experience in a hospital.
Moreover, their lives are filled with plenty of other obligations beyond your clinic. They know they need to see you, but it also needs to work into their busy lives.
In the beginning, appointment flexibility and accessible communication are key. Otherwise, patients are left to fret about their appointments and whether they can work it into their schedules. But there are a few ways to improve their pre-appointment experience with your clinic:
- Offer online self-scheduling so they can find a time slot that works for them.
- Text or email digital forms so they can register their information online ahead of time.
- Send appointment reminders to keep them on track with their care.
- Show wait times so they can plan their arrival with better accuracy.
Additionally, accessible communication is an important factor in providing a better patient experience. Patients should be able to reach you easily with questions before they arrive on preferred platforms like text and email.
2. When Patients Arrive
This is where the bottlenecks begin. Patients have officially made it to your clinic and can see firsthand how well it operates. All it takes is a stressed, abrupt receptionist or an excessively long wait time to ruin an experience.
For better patient flow, it’s helpful to coordinate arrivals. For one, you can send mobile and QR codes so they can quickly notify you of their arrival. Similarly, you can offer a kiosk check-in, which is much faster than signing in and waiting in line.
Another helpful way to orchestrate patient arrivals is to offer virtual waiting rooms. This is convenient for telemedicine visits since it lets you when patients are ready to be seen. But it also allows patients to check in and wait somewhere other than your waiting room. Many patients found this particularly helpful during the pandemic. Instead of risking their health in enclosed spaces, they had the option to wait outside in their cars.
3. During the Appointment
Orchestrating patient flow extends beyond patient arrivals. The duration of their visits should be well-organized with few interruptions.
For example, if you run an emergency room, you may see patients who aren’t in life-threatening condition. Still, they’re in your clinic for a reason. Whether they’re in pain, uncomfortable, or anxious (or all of the above), they need your attention. As such, the courteous thing to do is to assure them that you still have their care and comfort in mind.
To the point, one survey noted that communicating with waiting patients via text mitigated the negative emotions they felt from long wait times. And it makes sense; if you’re able to text patients throughout their appointments, you can make their visits a lot easier:
- Inform patients of delays, so they know why they’re waiting.
- Apologize for their wait.
- Alert patients when it’s time to be seen.
- Provide directions to triage nurse or physician.
- Keep patients’ loved ones updated on their status.
With these real-time updates, patients (and their loved ones) won’t feel neglected.
4. After Patients Leave
Patients’ post-visit experience with your clinic is just as important as their time spent inside it. In fact, this is where treatment compliance, referrals, and your overall reputation come into play.
Specifically, there are many reasons to communicate with patients after their appointments. You can send important information about their treatment, as well as remind them about their medication. You can also text a link to your survey, allowing you to get feedback.
Further, keeping patients engaged retains them for a reason. If the foundation of a good patient experience is the provider’s compassion, consistent communication shows them you have it.
PatientTrak: Improving the Patient Experience for More Hospitals
Whether you’re an outpatient hospital or a single provider practice, focusing on the patient experience is both a priority and an obligation. After the pandemic, worsening attitudes about healthcare delivery have compelled providers to re-evaluate the patient experience. But there is a way your clinic can make a positive difference.
With a patient flow platform like PatientTrak, your clinic can combat the challenges that create negative experiences. PatientTrak allows you to engage patients at every part of their journey:
- Pre-appointment: Offer online scheduling, digital forms, appointment reminders via text, and displayed wait times.
- Arrival: Eliminate bottlenecks with virtual waiting rooms and mobile, QR code, and kiosk check-in.
- Patient visit: Send real-time, HIPAA-compliant updates during the appointment.
- Post-visit: Text and email medication reminders, medical information, and survey links for feedback.
Your clinic is already an asset to your community. With PatientTrak’s digital tools, you’re even more valuable—empowering patients with easier healthcare experiences.
Grimm, C. (2021). Office of Inspector General Hospitals Reported That the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Significantly Strained Health Care Delivery Results of a National Pulse Survey. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/OEI-09-21-00140.pdf
Grocott, A., & McSherry, W. (2018). The Patient Experience: Informing Practice through Identification of Meaningful Communication from the Patient’s Perspective. Healthcare (Basel), 6(1), 26. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare6010026
Linzer, M., Griffiths, E. P., & Feldman, M. D. (2022). Responding to the Great Resignation: Detoxify and Rebuild the Culture. Journal of General Internal Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-022-07703-1
MacDougall, L. (2022, September 22). PatientTrak Gives Patient Census & Health Data to Nova Scotia ED. PatientTrak. https://www.patienttrak.net/news/patienttrak-nova-scotia-emergency-department-teams-positive-results/
Majority of Americans unhappy with health care system: AP- NORC poll. (2022, September 12). PBS NewsHour. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/majority-of-americans-unhappy-with-health-care-system-ap-norc-poll
Oben, P. (2020). Understanding the Patient Experience: A Conceptual Framework. Journal of Patient Experience, 7(6), 237437352095167. https://doi.org/10.1177/2374373520951672
How Texting is Transforming ED Patient Flow. (2022, February 8). PatientTrak. https://www.patienttrak.net/news/text-transforming-ed-patient-flow/