Improving the patient experience can be of benefit to patients, staff, leadership and providers. There are many reasons to solicit feedback from the patient experience. Some of the reasons include identifying strategic planning issues, differentiating your practice from its competition, confirming skills which staff need more training and reducing patient complaints. Feedback can come from a formal tool, a conversation or a short exit survey. All methods provide valuable insight to the “voice” of the patient. Put yourself in the “shoes of the patient.” Look for inefficiencies, barriers and bottlenecks. Prioritize these issues and plan a corrective action if warranted. Below are some suggestions to improve the patient experience during the visit:
Compare staffing in the medical practice to practices of the same specialty and/or industry benchmarking surveys. Does the medical practice have enough registration staff to accommodate the number of patients scheduled to be seen? Would “flexing” staff on busy days and times alleviate a backlog? Would adding ancillary staff (i.e. phlebotomists, medical assistants, Radiology Technicians, DME Assistants) improve the clinical workflow and eliminate tasks currently being performed by a provider? Ensuring staff are working to the “top of their license” is an important consideration.
Examine tasks performed by staff prior to the clinical visit. Has the provider ordered labs or imaging studies? What steps are in place to ensure the provider has the data prior to entering the room? Is a copy of the results needed for the patient? With the results flagged and available, the provider will be able to concentrate his/her efforts on educating the patient about the results and potential next steps.
Review all documents completed by the patient. Avoid duplicate questionnaires. Determine if the patient questionnaire can be completed on an Ipad or through a patient portal prior to the visit. When staff input the data elements for the provider, overall documentation time can be reduced. Some of the elements can include patient, family and social history, medications, allergies and the reason for visit in the electronic medical record.
Train staff to anticipate the needs of the provider and set up medical supplies in the room (i.e. Injection kits, bandages, suture supplies). Standardizing the exam room set up can streamline the process Ensure each exam room is set up identically in the practice and across all locations. Clean out cabinets to ensure they are not filled with supplies that are no longer needed. Labeling the cabinets is a good way to improve efficiency. When setting up the rooms, consult with providers and medical assistants to best organize supplies. These items can reduce time during the visit.
Ensure the patient discharge process is thorough. Many times patients call the office after an office visit with questions regarding the follow up instructions, medication protocols, refill requests, test results or scheduling of additional procedures. Circumvent these calls by having team members review the instructions with the patient at the end of the visit. Confirm with patients they understand the instructions. Monitor the phone messages and identify trends in terms of patient complaints or comments.
Encourage staff and providers to return phone calls throughout the day between patients rather than batching calls until the end of the business day. This reduces the likelihood of patients calling the practice a second or a third time. Ensure staff understands the process for paperwork which has been dropped off for completion, the timeframe to process refill requests and when patients can expect a call back. Document all actions in the electronic medical record in order to inform others regarding the status of the request.
Be on alert for signs of frustration. These can manifest in new behaviors after changes are made to a routine. Once a process is improved, be sure to re-visit the process and determine if the workflow is effective. Improving patient satisfaction is not a one-time event, but it is an on-going process. Examining patient flow can be helpful in identifying opportunities for improvement from the perspective of the patient.