$4.3 trillion—this is how much the United States spends on healthcare each year according to the American Medical Association. The number equates to more than $12,500 per person. Americans spend more on healthcare than any wealthy country in the world. From bandages to bypass surgeries, healthcare is big business.
But among the dollar signs are individuals wanting to protect and prolong their well-being. Siemens Healthineers reports that active patient choices impact more than 60% of healthcare spending. Organizations wanting to earn their business must win on the patient experience (PX).
Healthcare research indicates better care experiences improve clinical outcomes. Multiple studies show a link between quality patient experience and lower rates of hospital readmissions, complications, and mortality.
The healthcare organizations benefit financially as well. Deloitte found that hospitals with top patient experience scores enjoy a net margin nearly 5% higher than peers with low ratings. They also earn disproportionately more than they spend compared to those with lesser scores.
Patient experience matters—to people’s lives and the performance of healthcare providers. Organizations focusing on and investing in patient-centered care stand to improve both.
What Is the Patient Experience?
Patient experience is the collection of interactions across the continuum of care that influence patient perceptions. Essentially, everything a healthcare system does to impact patient feelings and well-being. This includes services from health plans, inside hospitals, during physician visits, and at other healthcare facilities.
The patient experience centers around quality healthcare delivery using highly valued aspects of patient care. At every touchpoint along their journey, patients and their families desire:
- Provider knowledge and skill
- Strong relationships
- Clear communication
- Timely appointments
- Easy information access
Managing the quality of these interactions and addressing gaps helps patients perceive their care more favorably and elevates the patient experience.
Components of Patient Experience
A focus on three key elements bolsters patient-centered care and engagement efforts throughout a health system:
Building a healthcare system focused on a higher level of patient-centered care requires the organization’s culture to shift. Everything the system does centers around the patient experience. This requires an executive leadership commitment to invest resources and prioritize the initiative. All stakeholders understand the value of patient experience and the role they play in delivering on that promise. Consistently communicating the organization’s goals and how PX is measured advances the organization’s culture evolution.
Healthcare organizations often look at the patient experience from the caregiver’s lens versus the patient’s perspective. They mistake patient experience simply as a series of strategies and actions—something happening TO a patient. Healthcare professionals do not provide an experience. They create circumstances, develop behaviors, and manage interactions to foster an experience that patients perceive positively.
Perceptions are unique to each patient and include what they think, understand, and remember about the care received. The most important perception of all: how a patient feels about their care. A health system investing in patient experience focuses on caregiver behaviors as much as replicable processes.
Continuum of Care
The patient experience extends beyond just what happens inside a healthcare facility. The patient journey begins and ends at home, bridged by a series of healthcare experiences. This is the continuum of care. The integrated system serves and tracks patients over time through an array of health services. Coordinating care between facilities, physician practices, and pharmacies from the point a patient walks out their front door to the point when they return home fosters a better patient experience. Gaps create vulnerabilities for people and threaten positive health outcomes. Focusing on all touchpoints along the care continuum helps influence patient perceptions and earns their loyalty for future healthcare needs.
Patient Experience vs. Patient Satisfaction
People commonly interchange patient experience and patient satisfaction. While seemingly similar, the two terms differ significantly. Patient experience focuses on perceptions whereas patient satisfaction deals with expectations. The distinction is important.
Patient experience includes every interaction a person has with healthcare providers and the quality of those experiences. This includes everything from timely appointments to a front desk greeting and clinical outcomes. Assessing patient experience is more objective because it is tested against a defined standard of care. Patient experience compares what happened during an encounter to what should have transpired and the patient’s perception of the events. The process uses standardized and validated measures.
Patients rarely, if ever, enter healthcare facilities with zero expectations. Patient satisfaction compares what occurred to the patient’s expectations to assess how happy they feel about their care. Patient satisfaction is more subjective than patient experience because all patient’s expectations differ. Therefore, two people receiving identical care can post two very different patient satisfaction scores.
Efforts to improve patient satisfaction and patient experience work best in tandem.
A patient experience question might ask: Did you have access to your medical records?
The optimal patient experience dictates people should have access to their health data. If answers are negative, a process problem is present and the healthcare staff must identify why and how to fix the issue.
A patient satisfaction question on the same topic might ask: How would you rate the ease of accessing your medical records?
This query generates subjective responses informed by each patient’s expectations. Aggregating it may find actionable information such as older generations have more difficulty accessing online health records.
Because of its objectivity based on a standard of care, patient experience is the more reliable measure. However, patient satisfaction is helpful in identifying issues that can improve that standard of care to create a more positive patient experience.
Why Patient Experience Matters
Patient experience and performance go hand in hand. Research shows patient experience quality improvement efforts lead to better clinical outcomes and healthcare system financial performance.
- Patient experience positively correlates to improved care processes for disease prevention and management. One healthcare research study found diabetic patients showed greater self-management skills and quality of life when reporting positive provider interactions.
- Strong communication from healthcare providers connects to improved patient compliance with medical advice and treatment plans, especially in cases of chronic conditions.
- Better care experiences improve health outcomes. One study found patients hospitalized for a heart attack had better health results one year later when citing a positive care experience.
- Hospitals improving the patient experience report better patient safety records, technical quality, length of stay, and readmission rates.
- The better patient experience gets within a healthcare system, the lower the risk of medical malpractice. A study found the likelihood of a provider being named in a malpractice suit goes up by 21.7% for each drop in patient-reported scores on a five-point scale.
- A focus on patient experience improves employee satisfaction, engagement, and attrition. The improved work processes and systems empower physicians and staff to provide better care, which is core to their personal sense of purpose.
- Patient loyalty relies on caring connections. Healthcare research found patients reporting the poorest-quality relationships were three times more likely to switch physician practices than those with high-quality relationships.
- According to a Press Ganey research study, every five-point increase in a hospital’s patient experience rating is associated with a 1% increase in profit margin.
Patients increasingly are pressuring systems to put the “care” back in healthcare. Leading healthcare providers see patient experience as a strategy for improving peoples’ well-being, healthcare quality, and profitability. Evaluating patient experience and focusing on continuous improvement helps everyone live better.