10 ways practices can improve the patient experience

No matter how wonderful of an experience you provide to patients, chances are there's still room for improvement. That's not just my opinion as a bystander, but a clear finding of a recent survey from the Cleveland Clinic. In fact, according to the organization's phone interviews of 1,019 adults, most patients--85 percent--said there was at least one aspect about their doctor's office that aggravated them, the Huffington Post reported.

Fortunately, FiercePracticeManagement has over the years (and continues to) provide expert advice on bettering your practice in each of these areas. Here, we've created a convenient crosswalk between U.S. patients' top gripes and solutions on how to fix them.

  1. Long wait to get an appointment. Because of physician shortages in many specialties, wait times to get a new appointment can range from weeks to months. But with more strategic scheduling, practices can reduce bottlenecks and get patients seen sooner.
  2. Long waits at the office. This was the top frustration among survey respondents, with 47 percent citing it as an issue. The solution lies mostly in enhancing office efficiency and delegating appropriately. However, keeping patients better informed of wait times can reduce frustration.
  3. Feeling rushed. Sensing the doctor was in a hurry was a complaint among 11 percent of respondents. Patients' perception of time spent with their doctor often differs from reality, and physicians' body language has a lot to do with this phenomenon. The number one factor in making patients feel heard may be for doctors to sit down during visits.
  4. Having to repeat their story multiple times. Twelve percent of surveyed respondents complained they had to provide the same information over and over. Smoother use of the team-based model, along with streamlined electronic medical records, can help resolve these redundancies.
  5. Lack of empathy. While most (75 percent) patients said they believe their doctor is empathetic, patients would be more willing to forgive other inconveniences at the office if their doctors expressed empathy more. Ironically, doctors are increasingly relying on computer-based programs to help improve their interpersonal skills, though in-person empathy training is becoming more widespread.
  6. Weak rapport. More than half (51 percent) of surveyed patients said their relationships with their doctors could be better. To understand how to better connect with patients, ask yourself what you do that may push them away.
  7. Unclear follow-up plans. Receiving broader wellness plans beyond the reasons for acute doctor visits would make 12 percent of patients feel a stronger bond with their physicians. You can't be there to act as patients' daily health coach, but you can get them more engaged in setting and following through with health goals between appointments.
  8. Difficulty contacting their doctors between appointments. A direct line of contact with their physicians would make 13 percent of respondents feel more positive about the doctor-patient relationship. If you're not exchanging secure messages with patients yet, it's time to recognize the benefits.
  9. Discomfort in telling the truth. While 73 percent of patients said they've never lied to their doctors, 11 percent said they were dishonest to avoid hearing a lecture, and 8 percent lied to avoid feeling judged. Better insight into signs patients are lying can help doctors more quickly uncover the truth.
  10. Perceived lack of value. Almost two-thirds of patients (62 percent) said they deserved a better experience at the doctor's office considering the cost. Patients may not understand all of the effort and expense that goes into creating their care experience, but you can demonstrate that you care about their financial well-being by doing what you can to promote cost transparency in your office.

The Cleveland Clinic survey looked more deeply into how these issues interrelate than we've covered here. Stay tuned for an upcoming Q&A with James Merlino, MD, Chief Experience Officer at the Cleveland Clinic, to discuss these relationships and more. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)