The patient experience is the bedrock of any healthcare practice. It's the cornerstone of loyalty. Quality experiences are what keep patients coming back.
Want to know a surefire way to drop the ball on that patient experience? Leave your patients hanging for days and weeks while trying to place them in the right post-acute care setting.
In a recent seminar sponsored by CQuence Health Group, Cherie Lytle, the Patient Experience Manager at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, and Kari Kunze, the hospital’s Radiology Diagnostics manager, revealed their insights to a better patient experience.
Here’s how you can put their insights into action during the patient transition period.
Keep Your Brand’s Promise
The first step toward a great patient experience? Cherie sums it up neatly: your facility must keep its promise.
“You need to be asking: what is your organization's promise?” Cherie says. “What do customers expect from you?”
Your brand promise is the cumulative result of your organization’s marketing efforts and its history with the community, and the post-acute transition is a critical factor in fulfilling that vow.
Think of the post-acute transition as the last chapter of a book. It’s the finale that makes or breaks the entire enterprise. Stick the landing and it’s a masterpiece. Fail, and the final impression the reader has is one of disappointment.
The handoff to a new facility is YOUR final impression on the patient, and the one that will be the most lasting. You need to make sure the transition is as smooth as it can possibly be.
Cherie raises the example of Disneyland.
“What would happen if you saw an actor dressed as Cinderella, with a cigarette in her mouth?” Cherie asks. “You’d be traumatized! That's not Cinderella, right? That’s a broken promise from Disney.”
Incongruities like that will cost you patients. An organization that promises convenience in a television ad can’t afford to make patients wait to be transferred to a new care facility; a hospital with extensive marketing materials depicting friendly staff members working with older patients shouldn’t have a staff member who reacts impatiently because they can’t get their hospital contacts on the phone.
“We have a lot of opportunities in everything we do every single day to uphold the promise or to break the promise,” Cherie says. “For us, it comes down to making the right choices.”
Look at your marketing materials for a sense of the image you project to the world, then ask yourself if the reality of your post-acute transition consistently aligns with that image. If not, you may have some work to do.
Perfect Your Non-Clinical Interactions
Clinical know-how will always be a part of a health brand’s promise. But these days, that’s not enough to win loyalty from patients.
As Cherie puts it, “They expect us to have medical expertise. It's why they are with us. It’s non-negotiable. But we don’t get a gold star for it.”
Expertise is the minimum point of entry for practice. The modern patient expects so much more. They want value and they want convenience in addition to quality. Most importantly, they want to feel they’re being respected as human beings. That puts pressure on every occasion when staff members interact with patients.
Are you getting your final moments with a patient right? Are you checking in with them regularly to provide updates on their transition? Are you reviewing prospective facilities at their bedside? Have you briefed family members on the status of the transition?
These interactions may not directly affect care, but they’ll stick in a patient’s mind – for better and for worse.
Get Everyone on Board
Keeping patient interactions consistently excellent will always be a daunting challenge. Kari points out that it won’t happen unless your staff feels personally invested in the effort.
“It’s constant work every day, every person, every time,” Kari says, “and we need to make sure that the team knows they have the power to make or break the patient experience.”
Everyone at your organization and those organizations you transfer patients to is extremely busy. They have to juggle many duties throughout their days. If the patient experience isn’t at the top of their mind, it will slip down the list of their priorities.
“That’s why it‘s essential to have that buy-in from everyone,” Kari says, “It can’t be one or two people. I can’t do it from my office and Cherie can’t do it from hers. It takes a village.”
But how do you build that trust when you could be reliant on staff at post-acute facilities across the city or across the state? It’s not like you can sit these people down and explain to them that their getting back to you promptly can have a direct impact on your patient experience.
The key may lie in a complete re-evaluation of how you approach the problem in the first place. Post-acute software solutions now provide a means of making nearly instantaneous contact with prospective facilities. Rather than expect other facilities to respond to a fax or a phone call at once, you can shift to a digital means of communication that puts the patient experience at the forefront by making things easier for clinical staff at all the interconnected facilities.
Your patient will come into contact with many people within your organization and the facility they ultimately wind up at. One broken link in that chain is all it takes to ruin a patient experience.
Sweat the Small Stuff
To show the importance of little details, Cherie likes to talk about a plant.
The plant has seen better days. It’s large, but neglected. It’s been under-watered, so it’s brown and wilting – perhaps close to death.
That wouldn’t matter so much, except for where the plant is – in the hallway where your patient or their family travel down every single day.
The ailing plant sends a terrible signal to patients and families. It’s a grim metaphor for the experience they can expect.
“Okay so what’s the message here?” Cherie asks. “Maybe it’s ‘Gosh, they can’t even water the plant and they’re supposed to be saving my life!’”
Details like that plant can dramatically affect a patient’s opinion of a facility. So can the amount of eye contact staff members make with patients or the way they converse when they enter the room.
“These are subtle things,” Cherie says, “They seem small but they make a difference to our families and they make a difference in that perception of care.”
Make sure that the little things in your facility send the right message to your patients, especially if they’re going to be spending quite a bit of time there while waiting for their transition to be confirmed. Are your picture frames crooked or straight? Is the upholstery in their room in good repair? Are family members welcomed by name when they visit each day?
Inconsequential? Not to a patient, so it shouldn’t be meaningless to your department either.
Respect Patient Preferences
Illness and injury can leave people feeling helpless. Their vulnerability robs them of a sense of control – and they’ll be immensely grateful if you can restore it for them.
That’s why Kari insists that staff ask about preferences.
“We want to show that in our interactions with family we are doing everything we can to honor their preferences,” said Kari.
Cherie also iterates: “These people are coming to us in the worst moments of their lives. It’s our responsibility to give them back just a little sense of control.”
Your patient shouldn’t have to descend into boredom while they wait or, worse, feel like staff members are just going through the motions with their care.
Little things like asking what they’d like on television, what time they’d like to have dinner (or what they’d like to eat if possible) or if they’d like to be moved somewhere else for a brief time can make a big difference for that patient’s experience.
Want to go even further? Let your patients and their families rank the facilities they’d most like to be moved to. If you let them choose based off of what they deem most important, they’ll respect you immensely because you’ve given them a say in their care.
Remember: Your Patients Have Options
Cherie and Kari agree that facilities must honor their patients’ choice. It’s the most important thing an organization can do to improve the patient experience.
“We don’t like to say it in healthcare, but the fact of the matter is that all of our patients and families are customers,” Cherie says. “They’re consumers, and they’re making choices. If we want our organization to be sustainable in the future, we have to reckon with that.”
Today’s patients have more options than ever. The Internet has empowered them with information, and they’re not afraid to share their frustrations about an experience they don’t like.
It’s up to you to ensure your facility delivers the best care possible, from start to finish. Perfect the patient experience by perfecting the post-acute transition. It’s your last point of contact with that patient – and your last chance to make an awesome impression.
Make it count.