U.S. hospitals admitted more than 36 million people in 2018. That equates to roughly the entire population of Michigan, New York, and Missouri combined. With so many Americans going in and out of hospitals, it's no wonder that improving patient experience is one of healthcare's top priorities.
Supporting this fact is the general U.S. consumers' extraordinary interest in "experiences." An amazing 74% of Americans prioritize experiences like travel over products or things. Not unexpectedly, this trend mirrors a recent healthcare study from Porter Research commissioned by SAP. More than half of healthcare executives surveyed (53%) labeled patient experience as a top challenge they plan to address over the next three years. Patient experience outranked cybersecurity (46%), finding qualified staff (46%), and compliance (42%) as executives' primary challenges.
"Patient engagement is a top priority for us," said one participant. "I call it patient-centric knowledge strategies. That means we are putting patients first, incorporating patient input, and developing specific technological tools that will benefit a patient inside and outside of the organization. Each patient is your new CEO."
Treating every patient like a CEO and creating VIP interactions is not an easy task. The healthcare systems that have succeeded are getting a strong assist from technology. They are digitizing data and moving to an intelligent enterprise that connects previously siloed patient, operational, financial, and experience data.
According to the SAP study, lack of integration between technology systems is the second-largest threat (after costs) to improving the patient experience. More data sharing and integration of financial, clinical, and experience data will break down silos and help identify target areas for improving patient and provider experiences.
The Many Upsides to Positive Experiences
Healthcare systems have endless ways to improve patient experience. Wait times in the emergency room or ambulatory surgery center add to the worry and anxiety felt for a loved one undergoing a surgical procedure.
When data from a hospital's clinical information system is accessible, clinicians can share expected wait times and treatment priorities in real time, empowering staff to set realistic expectations when reassuring a patient's caregiver or family member. Simply knowing and communicating the time expectations can make an emotionally difficult situation less stressful for everyone involved.
At a large hospital in Missouri, patient experience is a top priority. At this facility, the digital innovation staff launched more than 130 projects to increase patient engagement for managing health. One initiative involved putting information kiosks in office waiting areas. The kiosks encouraged patients to learn more about treatment options and support for their diagnosis. Within three months the kiosks had 237 interactions, and the hospital saw a 16% increase in health-related events. The end result: patients had more realistic expectations for long-term care and for how to find appropriate support for their health-related issues.
The simple step of providing a kiosk to improve the patient experience (and to reduce wait-time stress) directly resulted in improved patient engagement and better health management.
Engagement and Experience Requires Knowing the Patient
For clarity's sake, let's spell out the difference between patient engagement and patient experience. Many technology providers are trying to broaden the terms’ meanings and use them interchangeably. Patient engagement is "the empowering of patients and loved ones to be active in their own care." The most basic definition of patient experience is "the range of interactions that patients have with the healthcare system, including care from health plans, doctors, nurses, and staff in hospitals, physician practices, and other healthcare facilities."
The two terms are symbiotic. A positive experience often improves engagement, and positive engagement can improve the patient experience.
Three Patient-First Best Practices for Better Experience and Engagement
To improve the patient experience and advance patient engagement, health system leaders must start with a better understanding of their current patients' experience. Using experience management technology to capture feedback in the moment through text, kiosk, email, or voice-activated technology such as Alexa or Google Home can empower staff with insights they can act on immediately. The ability to address a service issue or communicate more effectively, before a patient leaves the hospital, will ultimately result in an overall improved patient experience.
Healthcare executives are seeking interoperability between internal systems to help improve operations and patient experience. In the SAP survey, 52% of executives pointed to data sharing between providers, payers, government, and industry to help with enterprise-wide visibility into improvement opportunities. As a result, organizations must invest in intelligent technology and infuse the enterprise with innovations that engage, educate, and interest patients, visitors, caregivers, and staff.
Creating these environments is not impossible. The retail, finance, and travel industries have realized incredible gains from improving consumer experience and engagement. They did it by digitizing and interconnecting their operational and experience data. Based on successes from these industries, healthcare should consider the following three best practices:
Visualize and quantify current patient experience – Use technology to map the patient journey and operational workflow to visually understand barriers and factors that contribute to a negative patient experience.
Establish the ideal patient experience – Use industry best practices to intentionally architect a new experience and workflow that will optimize use of resources and engagement with the patient. By designing this flow, institutions can more effectively prioritize interoperability efforts.
Define a path to better patient engagement – Leaders must start by capturing patient perceptions and asking for more impactful, relevant, and actionable feedback. With this information, teams can establish a baseline and identify goals and investment priorities for improvement. Objectives may begin with small cultural or process shifts and move toward larger technology investments.
By integrating patient, operational, financial, and experience data, and by truly understanding the patient's journey from start to finish, health systems can develop tools to enhance and streamline the patient experience.
The SAP study covers much more than patient experience and engagement. Executives also provide insight into addressing cost pressures from declining reimbursements. Read the complete report here.