As the health care community switches to accountable care, patient satisfaction will become an even greater focus for hospitals. When the government started using patient surveys regarding their hospital experiences to impact reimbursements that began on Oct. 1, 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported hospitals gave more weight to patient engagement. With satisfaction marks making up 30 percent of hospitals’ scores and impacting both patient payments and government reimbursements, enhancing the experience is an obvious choice for hospital executives.

Improving the patient experience is often challenging for health systems despite the fact that patient satisfaction relies on the same components as customer experience, according to Forbes. Hospitals need to remember that in consumer driven health care, being both a patient and a consumer isn’t mutually exclusive. Patients require and deserve the same level of service as they experience as consumers. When customers feel they are well taken care of, they are more willing to pay their bills. However, it’s not always as easy to improve patient collections as it is to improve consumer payments.

The basic problem
The patient experience is composed of numerous factors that all enter into how patients view their health care experiences. Much of the time patients have their own ideas regarding treatment before they see their providers, and lower their scores because their physicians or nurses don’t agree with their suggestions, the Journal reported. Many health care workers automatically believe that even critical care patients can’t have a great experience because of their illnesses, or that patients give low scores for trivial problems, like cold food. Hospital executives may not understand customer experience enough that they disregard things or misinterpret others, leading to low patient engagement.

Dr. M. Bridget Buffy, chief medical officer of California-based Vocera Communications, told Becker’s Hospital Review that hospitals need to get back to fundamentals if they want to improve the patient experience and truly exceed in consumer driven health care.

“The number one thing broken [in hospitals] is communication,” Duffy said. “From the time a person is diagnosed with a condition, while they’re [in the hospital] and after they leave, communication is the key. One CEO said to me, ‘My goal is to be the safest hospital in America.’ Today it’s not enough. Today our top strategic priority is to create an ideal healing experience and address the patient experience.”

Duffy suggested hospitals examine the gaps in empathy within the organization. In fact, Dr. Lenny Feldman told MedCity News that when he adds a personal touch to his care delivery, such as being courteous to patients, it can automatically create a good relationship that fosters communication – just because Feldman showed empathy.

“Effective communication and good relationships are essential to good medicine, especially when we’re dealing with chronic illnesses over time,” Feldman said. “Somewhere along the line, on the inpatient side, we stopped being courteous.”

For hospitals to fix their patient experience, they need to get down to the root of the problem – not treating patients with respect. While the majority of physicians have wonderful bedside manners, other employees at the hospital may not think it is their responsibility to improve the patient experience. Yet when patients aren’t welcomed with a smile at reception or must interact with a grumpy worker, it can negatively impact their satisfaction. The first and last impressions of the hospital are the most important, and while hospitals might not be able to provide a perfect experience for patients, there are easy-to-implement changes that make a big difference.

“Your goodbye needs to be better than just a chilly invoice sent through the mail by your billing service. (Why do veterinarians universally follow up to see how Rover is doing but physicians rarely do the same? It could make all the difference),” wrote Micah Solomon, a customer service expert, in Forbes.

As Solomon noted, health systems can’t afford to have their last impression be a large and confusing bill sent through the mail. Hospitals need to adopt patient friendly billing to prevent creating a negative last impression. Patient friendly billing improves the personal experience through improved communication, the pillar of the patient experience. While hospital executives must also ensure patients’ first impressions are positive and medical staff remain empathetic, the billing experience can be an underlying problem many health system executives need to address. Without communication through cost estimation and clear bills, the lasting impression of the patient experience can take a steep downturn. Create a positive lasting impression that encourages positive hospital scores by facilitating easy patient payments and clear medical billing.