The Six ‘I’s of Patient Experiences: Inconsistencies

October 16, 2011

Consistency and reliability are the groundwork for any trust-based relationship and certainly so in the medical field.

When you visit a retail store, coffee shop, or other business, you are able to quickly identify inconsistencies in their service. This is not so easy in your own practice, because it has become so familiar to you. Yet consistency and reliability are the groundwork for any trust-based relationship and certainly so in the medical field. Improving inconsistencies is an important first step towards creating better patient experiences and improving patient satisfaction.

Let’s look at four areas where you can make changes today:

Inconsistencies from online to office: Oftentimes patients review your website or other online information before visiting your office. The way you are represented on the web needs to be purposeful and consistent with your patients’ office visits. Regularly review your website to make sure it is setting consistent expectations for what patients will find in your office. Is the information on your website current? Do you have a clear design esthetic online and a different look and feel in your office? Update your website this week to align to where your practice is at today.

Inconsistencies in materials: Regularly review all patient materials you provide in your office. You may not have thought to align them with the same colors, fonts, writing style, and imagery of your website. Make sure they give patients a consistent look and feel that uniquely says that it came from your office. You wouldn’t want a potpourri of your original materials mixed with photocopies of reference materials from other sources. All of your patient communication materials should prominently display your name, office number, and address so patients can contact you later, and they should communicate in a style that is easy-to-read and understand for people outside the medical field. You can ask a friend or family member outside the industry to provide feedback on what makes sense.

Inconsistencies from person to person: From one staff member to another or from one physician to another in a group practice, people are all different. It's one of the beautiful parts of life that makes us all unique and valuable. Dramatic differences, though, can be perceived from the patient's perspective as disorganized, misaligned, or even confusing. To manage the variance, develop standard protocols you want everyone in your office to use. For example, all callback nurses may say, "Good morning, Mrs. Smith. I'm Jane and I will escort you back to the exam area." Design protocols to use when transferring a patient from one clinician to another or from the clinician to the administrative staff. Think about how you would like your staff to communicate expectations around wait times to your patients. Address how you want the office phone answered. Staff eye contact, greetings, communication skills, patient updates, and service-orientation all matter to your patients. And thanks to the experiences they have outside the medical field, patients have high expectations. The good news is that this can all be trained so staff understands what you're looking for and so that patient experiences are consistent regardless of whom they're interacting with.

Inconsistencies across processes: One medical practice had a very streamlined approach for patient scheduling. They allowed patients to set up scheduling preferences online and had automated the scheduling system so the patient would receive a quick confirmation back on the appointment time. The challenge was that when the patient went through the check-out process it wasn't as sophisticated. One time it would go smoothly and the third-party billing worked, but the next time there would be a problem with the patient's copayment going through the system correctly. It was just unpredictable. Examine each of your patient-facing processes. When you find a process that's highly variant, delve into the root causes so you can create better consistency across all your patient interactions.

Look across your people, processes, and information to identify places you can improve reliability and consistency. By minimizing these inconsistencies you will encourage current patients to recommend others to your practice because they'll know exactly what kind of experience their friends and family will receive.

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