The patient experience and your medical practice's revenue stream are intrinsically linked — here's how to improve both.
Patient Experience Optimization is about driving revenue by creating a better experience. It’s crucial to running a successful practice. Doctors and practice managers must create a positive experience through a variety of touchpoints — both on and offline.
We’ve all had a bad customer experience with a business at some point or another. Maybe you had to wait in line too long, an employee was rude, or the service was just awful. In any event, these types of negative experiences can generally be avoided simply by understanding the process people go through when they interact with your business, and then taking action to improve upon it.
Typically, this experience is called the ‘Customer Experience’, but I will refer to it as the ‘Patient Experience’ since we’re talking about the healthcare space.
Disclaimer: In this article, I am not talking about medical effectiveness or what you should do to treat a patient. That is a job for medical professionals and healthcare informatics. This article is about doing better marketing and offering better customer service.
Increase the Value of a Patient and Get More Referrals
At MD Connect, our primary focus is driving new patients to your practice through digital marketing. There is much more to marketing than just driving leads or phone calls.
What really happens when you improve the patient experience?
- Keep patients longer: When customers are happy, they are more likely to stay a customer for a longer period of time and are more likely to refer people to your business.
- Get more referrals: You probably won’t get many referrals if people don’t like and trust you. Referrals are still a large source of business for many medical practices.
- Build a stronger brand: You can control your messaging in advertisements or on your website, but not what people say about you. You can say you’re the best, but it’s far more powerful when it comes from a third-party. If people have a great experience with your business, they’ll probably be more inclined to talk positively about it.
Build a Data-Driven Organization
Creating a data-driven culture necessarily isn’t about the data itself. While data quality is important, the name of the game is making key business decisions based on evidence — i.e., what the data represent.
For example, you may be interested in improving your waiting room experience. You notice that in most of your negative reviews, people are complaining about the long wait time. As such, the Avg. Patient Wait Time should be viewed as a key metric of success. You may start looking at ways to drive this number down. Maybe you could fix this by improving your scheduling system or hiring an operations research consultant.
Tips on utilizing data in your practice:
- Start with questions: Try and answer strong business questions like: What attributes make up our best patients? What variables cause people to show up or not show up for appointments?
- Test, measure, improve: It’s probably worthwhile to implement a testing process in your organization. You can start by generating a hypothesis and testing whether a change works better or not.
- Decide what you want to measure: With all the tools and technology available today, you can essentially measure and collect an unlimited amount of data. But most of it will not drive actionable insight.
- Move beyond opinions: We all have biases, but it’s important to minimize your own opinions and see what the data says. For example, you might like a certain variation of your website, but your patients may think otherwise.
- Context before conclusion: What’s better: 1,000 visitors or 10,000 visitors? There’s no way to answer this question without context. What if the 10,000 visitors are people who are totally irrelevant to your business and not even in the same country? Would you still value that traffic? Look at everything in terms of your business goals rather than arbitrarily trying to improve metrics.
Map the Patient Journey
It’s important to determine all the ways in which a patient can interact with your practice — no matter how minute some of them may seem.
Let’s brainstorm some of the touchpoints a person might experience with your practice:
- Marketing Materials: Do you have the right messaging for the right people on the right platform?
- Website: Is your website easy to use and mobile-friendly? Answer people’s most important
- Phone Calls: Are phone calls answered promptly? Is your IVR easy to use?
- Emails: Are emails sent to a HIPAA secure database? Do you respond to people promptly?
- Front-Desk: Is your receptionist friendly, knowledgeable, and competent?
- Location: Is your office easy to find? This is difficult to change, but patients will take it into consideration.
- Ease-of-access: Is the building easy to access? Is there sufficient signage to find your suite?
- Cleanliness: Just be clean, please.
- Waiting Room: Is your waiting room clean, comfortable and calming?
- Wait Time: Nobody likes waiting. Can you optimize or make the scheduling process more efficient to reduce wait times? Can you make waiting more comfortable or entertaining?
- Forms to Fill Out: Is there an easier way to help people fill out forms? What about using a new software or cutting down on unnecessary or repeated fields
- Bedside Manner: Even if the doctor is great, many people still write negative reviews based on a doctor’s bedside manner. What can you do to improve this?
This is a great book for learning how to map customer experiences.
Fix Experience Killers and Prioritize High Impact Touch Points
You must identify the bottlenecks in your patient journey. For example, the client in the example below had a call abandonment rate of 57.7%. This means that more than half of all calls are going unanswered. At that rate, it doesn’t matter if you have high-performing marketing campaigns or if the doctor is amazing — you’re leaving a lot on the table.
In this situation, you’ll probably find the biggest business impact by lowering the call abandonment rate — it is a high priority. This may entail testing the phone system for issues, training your staff or hiring more people.
Example — Improving the Mobile Website Experience
Let’s look at some real data from a large hospital. As you can see, the conversion rate is much higher for popular browsers than less-popular browsers. But these less-popular browsers still get a lot of traffic meaning a lot of money is being left on the table.
Go one level deeper. Don’t just compare browsers, but compare browser versions. For example, it looks like there might be some issues with some older versions of Internet Explorer. This accounts for 100k+ visits. Fixing the issues may lead to improving the conversion rate which can ultimately lead to more new patients.
In this case, we could use a tool like BrowserStack to pinpoint the issues. Then I’d work with the client’s web developers to fix the problems. We should expect to see an increase in conversions in these poorly performing browsers. The point is, seemingly small changes can make a major impact with high traffic websites and businesses.
Patient Experience Optimization is never over. There will always be areas that you can improve, but it’s about improving the right things at the right time. As patients have a better experience with your practice — you may be delightfully surprised that your practice experiences more growth.