If Hollywood can revive old movies or create sequels about stories from years ago, like 1986’s Top Gun, then I can revive some old topics that are still relevant today. Back in 2017, Amy Kotch wrote a Salient Healthcare blog on Patient Engagement. While she certainly highlighted a few key points, such as the value of the Annual Wellness Visit and developing a better physician-patient relationship, there are out-of-the-box ideas that, while intangible, can go a long way towards boosting patient satisfaction, leading right into patient engagement. Yes, you want good remarks on your Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey, which is going to make up nearly 1/3 of quality reporting, however, part of the key to that is genuinely giving your beneficiaries a reason to be happy (which is a relatively new mindset in healthcare). It’s also important to note that patient satisfaction can boost attribution and market share, and I will actually be discussing both of those topics in the next month. Keep an eye out!
EXTRAORDINARY SENSE OF WELLBEING
When I was working for a Level 3 Patient Centered Medical Home in West Palm Beach, my then-Medical Director often referred to it as, “Creating an extraordinary sense of wellbeing.” In my early years I remember thinking, “What does that have to do with healthcare?” However, the longer I have been in the industry, I’ve come to realize that it’s one of the big keys to patient satisfaction.
Case in point, there have been several studies on hospital patient satisfaction linked to the food they receive during their stay. Not the care they receive. Not the bedside manner of the doctors and nurses. The food! Now, many of us have seen that hospitals are beginning to look more and more like five-star hotels over the last decade, and that’s not a coincidence. It’s because patient satisfaction seems to have more to do with the emotional wellbeing of the patient as opposed to just the physical wellbeing that is being treated.
As an Accountable Care Organization (ACO) it’s important that you continue to build that physician-patient relationship because that connection may be what gets each beneficiary to call their PCP over heading to the Emergency Room. Unfortunately, nobody ever talks about how to actually build that relationship so that it falls under the category of successful patient engagement. Below are some examples of thinking outside-the-box in order to make patient engagement a daily priority.
As soon as you saw customer service, I’m sure you thought, “They’re patients, not customers.” In this instance you can actually be right and still be wrong. In most instances, medical practices and hospitals forget that most of their patients are going to be in bad moods when they come into the office. Nobody wants to go to the doctor. Our medical director challenged us to actually make people want to go to the doctor, and we did.
We brought in a customer service consultant from a local hotel, and over several days we put groups of our employees (front desk, scheduling, billing, referrals, phlebotomy, etc.) through four-hour customer service training. The idea was to make each patient feel special the way customers feel special when they walk into a hotel. It’s about the experience instead of just about getting in and out. From the moment a patient calls to speak with a scheduler, checks in at the front desk, is brought back to the exam room by a medical assistant, is seen by their provider, and checks out while simultaneously scheduling a follow-up appointment, the customer service aspect has to come first. In my experience, the extra TLC did wonders for patients upset about long wait times to see their provider. It made them feel appreciated. It made them want to recommend the practice to their friends, and ultimately it made them feel like they were part of the family.
Now you don’t have to necessarily hire a hotel concierge consultant, but there are other courses out there that teach customer service skills. Chick-Fil-A is notorious for their superior customer service, and whether-or-not you think they have the best chicken sandwich in the country, people will clearly stand in line for quite a while just because they’re treated as guests instead of customers. The key is, spend the time teaching your staff to appreciate your patients, and they’ll appreciate you when it comes time to fill out the CAHPS survey, schedule an appointment, and recommend your services to the greater community.
I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM, WE ALL SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM
What do you get when you hand 150 senior citizens two scoops of vanilla ice cream? If you said diabetes, you’re not wrong, but the answer we were looking for here is happiness. South Florida’s senior population was a bigger challenge to get engaged. We found that while our younger population appreciated just being taken care of, the seniors really wanted to connect to the providers. It’s not surprising when we know that loneliness and social isolation among seniors is a major health threat. Getting them to gather at your medical office actually gives them a place to feel connected.
Once per quarter I would block out appointments for the last hour of the day, and then invite all of our seniors to attend an ice cream social. It wasn’t particularly expensive, and as an added bonus I had our providers either serve the ice cream or mingle with patients. You play a little music, and let everyone have fun. It’s low-cost, easy setup, and augmented our physician-patient relationships exponentially. The key is that you’ve turned your medical practice into a sometime-social attraction. Years ago, this would have been unheard of, but today it’s an outside-the-box solution to the patient satisfaction/engagement challenge.
WHAT ELSE CAN I DO?
Thinking outside-the-box doesn’t mean you have to do anything crazy. It’s just little things that might make a patient’s already challenging life just a bit easier. Remember, they don’t know how to navigate the healthcare system like you do. They may not even know how to navigate your practice like you do. Maybe consider hiring a patient advocate whose job is to work closely with those difficult patients that always seem to be upset. The advocate can move easier through your operational hierarchy because they know how everything runs and who the key personnel are. In some cases, it’s better than adding an extra scheduler because your scheduling team is always pressed for time to move on to the next call. The patient advocate’s role is specifically not to be in a rush.
You don’t’ have to get too high-tech, or too expensive. Just get personal. Get human and watch your CAHPS and quality scores hit the ceiling because your patients actually want to be a part of what you’re putting together.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, April 29). Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html.
- Dall’Oglio, I., Nicolò, R., Di Ciommo, V., Bianchi, N., Ciliento, G., Gawronski, O., Pomponi, M., Roberti, M., Tiozzo, E., & Raponi, M. (2015, January 27). A systematic review of hospital foodservice patient satisfaction studies. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25634093/.
- United Healthcare. (2020, November 10). What are the CAHPS® and HOS surveys and why do they matter? CAHPS/HOS Overview. https://www.uhcprovider.com/content/dam/provider/docs/public/reports/cahps-hos/CAHPS-HOS-Overview.pdf.
- Weed, J. (2016, August 1). With Room Service and More, Hospitals Borrow From Hotels. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/02/business/making-hospitals-more-like-hotels.html.