Patients love their providers. They are less thrilled about administrative staff, survey finds

Star rating review patient experience
Clinical providers are generally well liked, with 87% of survey respondents praising their courtesy and respect. (Getty/anyaberkut)

Patients are more willing than ever to switch doctors, so practices are increasingly treating them like consumers and trying to figure out what they want.

They might want to start with their administrative staffs.

A recent survey conducted by NRC Health found that whereas patients are generally enthusiastic about their clinical providers, they have widespread complaints about wait times and administrative staff. The survey's collection of patient comments found 87% praised clinicians' courtesy and respect, but 67% said administrative and support staff didn't afford them enough respect.

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Patient comments about wait times are even more negative, with 77% of them containing complaints. 

The NRC Health Report recommends:

  1. Do everything to improve relationships with patients.
  2. Bring more ease-of-use to customers, including telehealth options and retail clinics.
  3. Move away from the episodic model of healthcare. Engaging with the community is one way to inspire continuous relationship cultivation.
  4. Find efficiencies to free up clinician time.

Indeed, while HCAHPS scores are looking good—national average "would recommend scores" just hit a nine-year high—the survey indicates those figures are masking substantial dissatisfaction among patients.

RELATED: 4 ways to reduce wait times for patient appointments

Particularly in an environment where patients are increasingly empowered to act as consumers, providers need to expand how they think about patient satisfaction. The generic "patient feedback form" is outdated, the survey suggests.

"I understand why [Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems] is out there, but what it's measuring is totally irrelevant to what we are working on, related to relationships," wrote Julie Kennedy Oehlert, chief experience officer at Vidant Health, in the report. "Caring can't become a box on a checklist that I tick, and then forget about."

The survey found 80% of patients were willing to switch providers "for convenience factors alone," and online directories and reviews have made that change easy.

Given these sentiments, NRC recommended that providers focus more energy on their administrative and support staff. This includes the billing and insurance process, which was a major source of complaints among patients.

"We just don't make it easy for them," said Mike Yost, vice president of marketing, outreach and experience at IU Health, in the report. "The flow of information should be seamless, and patients shouldn't have to force it to happen."