Whether you are a primary care physician or a specialist, providing a positive patient experience and boosting patient experience scores can be challenging. Scoring vendors suggestions are often too general, and scientific data on improving patient experience scores often is lacking. That’s why I decided to research hundreds of patient surveys and literature from several specialties in hopes of boosting patients’ experience in the dermatology practice at MU Health Care in Columbia, Missouri. In my research, I identified three key areas that can dramatically affect how patients view you.
- Communication. Nothing is more important that communication. In my research, I found clear communication is more important to patients than qualifications, especially when providers can set expectations before, during and after clinical encounters. In my own practice, I see how patients’ experience is improved by directly addressing their options for a particular treatment and encouraging them to play an active role in deciding how to proceed. Nearly all patient experience issues can be traced back to some point where there was a failure of communication or to a point where one can observe that clearer communication would have reduced patient anxiety.
- Perception. I also discovered patients’ perception of time spent during an exam may be more influential to their overall experience than the actual time spent with them. In my practice, that means taking the time to palpate skin lesions and examining the skin closely with overhead lighting or dermatoscopy, even when those steps may not be needed in all cases to provide a high-quality skin exam. It’s about being present in the moment and making your patients know that they’re your top priority when you are with them. Simple actions such as acting unrushed, sitting rather than standing, avoiding a rush to diagnose, and taking time to answer all their questions, even questions seemingly unrelated to what you feel the focus of their visit is, goes a long way to improve patient satisfaction.
- Access. Although clear communication and meaningful exam time can improve patient experience, limited access can do just the opposite. Access barriers can be especially troublesome in specialty practices. My research revealed the importance of addressing access issues proactively. Referring physicians can help with this process by assuring patients the wait to see a specialist will not impact their heath, and the specialist they are being referred to is “worth the wait.” Specialists can consider communicating with patients before their visit to confirm the referral was received and to ensure there are no concerns that might require expedited care.
Whether you are a dermatologist like me, another specialist, or a primary care provider, focusing on clear, meaningful communication with your patients and with referring colleagues can go a long way toward providing patients with more positive experiences.
Golda N, Beeson S, Kohli N, MerrilL B. Recommendations for improving the patient experience in specialty encounters. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2018;78(4):653-659. Available at www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(17)31789-9/fulltext.