The underrated importance of patient experience

I’ll admit it. In my very junior days as a GP Obstetrician, I kept patients waiting.

I’m not proud of it. I thought I was doing the right thing by constantly fitting extra consults in. But the result was that it was not uncommon for me to be up to one hour behind. A problem often compounded by me having to make a mad dash back to the hospital to do a delivery.

‘They’ll understand,’ I thought to myself, ‘One day it might be them.’

Fast forward five years and in a new role as a Medical Director, I was exposed to the fact that the biggest cause of patient complaints was their waiting time prior to surgery. Patients could not understand why they had to arrive at 6.30 in the morning – starving and coffee deprived – only to wait until 11.30am for their operation.

When I tried to bring about a change in practice to address these complaints, the changes were opposed by clinicians who needed to see the patient prior to their list commencing at 8am, along with the desire to have patients ready if an earlier case went quicker than expected or one case was cancelled.

Clinicians believed so long as the clinical outcome was excellent, this would negate any sub-optimal patient experience.

What this belief ignores is this:

In this day and age, an excellent clinical outcome is expected. It is the norm.

Patients are no longer so relieved by an excellent outcome that they will forget about an experience that didn’t meet expectations.

Why should we, as health providers, care about patient experience?

Because, like it or not, healthcare is a service industry, and patient experience is now central to the success (or failure) of healthcare organisations.

Consider the case of a friend who I will call Jess. She miscarried a baby at 12 weeks and required a D&C. Her expectation of the D&C procedure was that it would go smoothly. And, of course, it did.

What she didn’t expect, however, was the genuine compassion shown to her by everyone involved in the process, from her obstetrician, through to his reception staff, through to the anaesthetist who joked gently with her before sending her off to sleep, to the nurse at the hospital who brought her a pre-warmed blanket when she mentioned she was cold. Each of those touchpoints made a hard experience so much easier. It was so interesting to note how the care Jess received at such a difficult time saw her go from sad and disconsolate to becoming a passionate advocate for her health care provider.

Are your patients raving about you to their friends and colleagues? If they are, chances are you would have very little need to market your services as your appointment slots would always be full.

Patient experience has become so important to organisations, we have seen an explosion of both:

  1. methods to measure patient experience
  2. interventions to optimise patient experience

I have thoughts around the second item above. And, as always, I try not to be someone who just suggests to people what they should be doing. I like to be able to show myself implementing my own suggestions.

So, here are the key aspects of patient experience I considered for One for Women:

1. Excellence in care

As mentioned, excellence in care is the expectation these days. It essentially forms the foundation on which excellent patient experience is built.

How did I set One for Women up to ensure we were going to deliver exceptional care? By bringing together the best experts and providers we could find in the fields of GP Obstetrics, midwifery, women’s health, physiotherapy, and psychology.

2. Communication and patient-centred care

We try to ensure the patient feels fully involved in any decisions that are made regarding their care. This is facilitated by longer appointment slots that allow for education where needed. Those longer appointment slots also ensure the patient feels like more than a ‘number.’ We’re able to take the time to find out about their families and what’s important to them rather than just managing their pregnancy.

We also respond to patient requests promptly and appropriately, and communicate results in the same way.

3. Convenience – all our services are available in one location

As you know, a founding tenet of One for Women was we didn’t want pregnant women or new mums driving all over town in order for their individual care needs to be met. We wanted to provide a holistic level of care. And we wanted patients to be able to access all aspects of that care in one location, from providers who had the ability to speak directly to each other (so the patient didn’t have to be the ‘project manager’ of their care). This has the added benefit of breaking down silos in health care.

Housing all care providers in one location also allows us to coordinate appointments in such a way that any waiting times are reduced. When you provide convenience to patients, you almost always increase their experience at the same time.

4. How things ‘feel’

We believe every touchpoint a patient has with us is important. From the moment someone goes to our website, to when they call our surgery for the first time, to the greeting they receive from reception staff – every interaction counts.

We aim to create an atmosphere of calm and trust. So we try to make our waiting room comfortable with soft noise (music rather than tv), appropriate magazines and comfortable chairs. Our waiting room is also deliberately small and intimate to further reduce noise and discomfort.

Because we don’t want One for Women to feel ‘clinical’, we’ve worked hard to make the practice family-friendly. We had a custom-designed toy area built with a train track and an area for books and placed it in a prominent place in the waiting room. Kids are happy to stay and play while the parents are seen (with supervision from our receptionists). We also involve kids in the consult where possible and focus on making the whole family feel welcome. We like the thought of older siblings asking to come to appointments.

5. The wait

Few things impact patient experience in a negative way than having to wait every time they have an appointment. While patients will accept extenuating circumstances, a consistent lack of punctuality from care providers is felt to be disrespectful. As outlined in this piece, we’ve deliberately made our waiting room small and adhere to the following policies to keep waiting times to a minimum:

  • Generous appointment lengths that allow for both the consultation and completion of necessary paperwork associated with the consult.
  • Patients to be contacted if the health practitioner is running late, advised of the delay and offered a later arrival time.
  • Provision of a voucher to the local coffee shop should the patient have arrived already or be en route.

Beyond clinical excellence

It’s no longer good enough to say that patient outcome is the only thing that matters. Or that the ‘end justifies the means’. Patients expect more from health providers today and whether we like or not, we as health providers are in the service industry.

Delivering excellence in patient experience isn’t just great for our patients, it’s great for us, the providers of those health services. Building a passionate group of people advocating our services will ensure longevity and success for those services we provide.

A virtuous circle if ever I saw one.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top