Prioritizing the patient and employee experience starts with advanced listening and analytics, not more paper surveys.
For many, the modern conception of a primary care physician has shifted from someone who sits thoughtfully at the bedside, making eye contact, and taking handwritten notes, to a typist in front of a computer. But in the era of data in health care, more information and automation does not have to grow the distance between us – it can actually mean more empathy and humanity.
While the health care industry is among the most trusted by consumers globally, the patient experience is lagging, research shows, with hospitals ranking amongst the lowest across 28 industries for satisfaction. Less than three-quarters (74%) of respondents reported being satisfied with their hospital experience compared with the global cross-industry average of 77%.
Data has the power to transform health care by providing decision-makers with valuable insights that can drive more empathy. With the right tools, health care providers can gain a deeper understanding of their patients' lives, their needs, and their preferences — and then respond to them in real time. By seeing the bigger picture that data provides, health care leaders and their employees can create more personalized health care experiences.
Unfortunately, most health care systems are still equating experience data with inpatient surveys, known as Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems. What is less talked about is the low response rates to these surveys and the inherent response bias of the surveyed population that returns them. What we miss when this listening strategy is employed is…well, everything else people are saying. They don’t just talk when you solicit their opinion, they are talking and experiencing your brand from the first call to your contact center, to the messages to the care team, to the call about the bill confusion, to the pharmacy, and then the online review. People are actually giving health care a wealth of data we haven’t even begun to tap into. And yet, other industries have been doing this for years, and they call it experience management (XM).
Why does it matter? At a time of record inflation rates and an uncertain labor market, economic conditions are having a real impact on people’s health. Research found 46% of U.S. respondents chose to delay care between 2020 and 2022 because of the high cost of health care services, and 43% chose to delay care due to higher costs of living overall. Beyond delaying health care, more than a quarter (26%) of consumers in the study chose not to fill a prescription in the past 12 months because of the cost. Similarly, 63% of nurses are thinking about leaving the profession with an associated cost we can’t begin to fathom.
Deciding whether you want to listen to the violin section or the entire symphony of voices across your organization drives your ability to understand and act – and therefore, to grow the bottom line. For example, attending to a solicited survey with a 25% response rate from an outpatient setting when you could be analyzing all unstructured data for emotion, effort, and intent is not really listening. Even if reimbursement dollars are in the range of $2 million to $3 million for a large health care system, the quality, efficiency, and reduced churn at your contact center will likely add up to 100 times that. Additionally, mature experience programs that listen and understand the relationship between employee and patient experience data have twice the amount of revenue growth as those that do not. Consolidating listening platforms also saves organizations on average 20% to 40%.
It is not as simple as being nicer. When patients don’t feel emotionally connected to a clinician, much less a brand, costs skyrocket with repeat emergency room visits and fragmented care across settings. Nutrition-related care, routine preventive appointments, and mental health are the most common types of care people said they chose to skip, according to new research. Health care avoidance – including foregoing medication, treatment, or preventive care due to cost – ultimately leads to worse outcomes for patients and has direct links to inequities in health care, including the racial health gap. Research on patient experience (PX) clearly tells a story that patients more activated in their care have lower annualized costs of care as well.
Across all industries, 63% of customers don’t think organizations are acting on their feedback. In health care, we were taught the mnemonic of SMART for effective feedback – Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely. Every other customer-obsessed industry brings to life what is called “closed loop,” wherein action is taken immediately on the feedback based on certain rules defined by the organization. This means every piece of feedback gets a response. This rarely happens in health care at large. So we are faced with a fundamental question: How does health care want to make people feel? If a patient does take the time to complete a survey and we don’t act on what they say, we should really stop asking altogether.
The future is in part, listening to what we already have, which is “hidden data” of chats, faxes, phone calls, etc. The only way to deeply understand an experience is to dig into emotion, which artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools tools can do at scale with unstructured data. It’s about time we understood emotion in a highly emotional business like health care. The emotion that is inferred and spoken, the intensity of it, and the effort amplifying it. Technology can be used to segment experiences and populations and suggest next best actions that will matter most to that group. Given the overwhelming amount of alerts and information coming at frontline caregivers, AI powers the prioritized delivery of alerts and escalations while also automating positive reinforcement to spread the love.
Common sense tells us that patient and customer satisfaction starts with engaged employees who are enabled to deliver high quality, compassionate care. Especially concerning is recent research that found health care employees have the lowest scores across the core pillars of employee experience (EX): engagement, intent-to-stay, and experience vs. expectation. The percentage of health care employees who said they intend to stay in their job fell four percentage points in 2022 compared to a year earlier, from 65% to 61%. Just about half (52%) of health care employees believe they are paid fairly for the work they do, and only 38% of health care employees feel their pay is clearly linked to their performance. Similarly, according to Beckers, national nurse turnover was at 22.5% in 2022 with an average staff RN cost of $52,350. The costs add up quickly, especially as nursing costs skyrocket.
Correlations and drivers between employee and patient experience can now be identified automatically through data we have today. The subsequent benefit to organizations is about focusing the most impactful efforts in a world of shrinking attention spans. This means knowing what PX drivers of EX are and vice versa. Organizations can also save millions of dollars by simply combining their PX and EX platforms.
As economic conditions make access to health care more difficult and as health care workers continue to face burnout and staffing challenges, it’s never been more critical for leaders to use all the tools at their disposal, including advanced listening and analytics capabilities, to understand and drive precision improvements for both the patient and employee experience.
Adrienne Boissy, MD, is the chief medical officer at Qualtrics, a staff neurologist, and a former chief experience officer at the Cleveland Clinic. A TED speaker and health care industry pioneer, she advocates for empathy operationalized to design systems that deliver human-centered care.