Top 10 Changes in Patient Expectations (Part II)

December 28, 2011

Meeting patient expectations is a practical reality, and the sooner steps are taken, the better your outlook.

Yesterday, James Doulgeris revealed five patient expectations. Here’s the rest of his top 10 for private practices.

Expectation #5 - Better Coordinated Care: Higher deductibles and co-pays, and millions of uninsured and under-insured people, have made patients acutely aware of the cost of care. Patients expect their providers to coordinate their care with other providers, facilities, and allied health care not only for convenience, but to keep the costs down without compromising safety or outcomes.

Expectation #4 - More Outpatient Procedures: These also equate to less expensive procedures with less down time and recovery time. With high unemployment and increased demands to perform, people can rarely afford long recovery times or hospitalizations unless there is no other choice. With the most frequent surgeries such as hip, knee, and spine becoming minimally invasive and moving to outpatient settings, the feasibility of having a dedicated-purpose ambulatory surgery center attached to a practice has superseded economics to a near necessity. A single continuity of care structure from diagnosis to recovery holds strong attraction to today’s patients.

Expectation #3 - New Alternatives to Pay for Care:While high deductibles and co-pays play a role, paying for necessary care for the uninsured and under-insured has become a fiscal reality that is allowing easily treatable conditions to progress into more complex and acute stages. People understand that if they put off treatment, whether it is a sore back or a sore tooth, things are likely to get worse. They hope against hope that they will get better, and insurers exacerbate the problem by being more generous with emergent situations than minor ones. The problem is so prevalent that medical finance companies such as Care Credit, which were built upon cosmetic dentistry and plastic surgery, have hit the mainstream, and have been joined by the likes of Bank of America, Chase and other large banks. Don’t just require payment at the time of service; help your patients to pay by providing a range of personal financing options.

Expectation #2 - Customer Service, Technology, and Outcomes: Three fundamental systemic changes: access to information, expectation of quality service and quality care, and the patient perception that technology has evened the playing field making skill less of a factor, have taken permanent root:

Access to Information: People don’t look for credentials, they look for a solution, and their search is easier than ever. Eight of 10 people do their healthcare research using the Internet, the vast majority using Google. They also post their experiences with providers, good and bad, and they are all just a search phrase away. Search engine rankings not only make your practice more visible, higher rankings have a profound effect on how prospective patients view your capabilities, status, and popularity as a provider. Furthermore, your practice website must be changed from an electronic brochure to an interactive, integrated element of your operation. Websites are no longer marketing vehicles; they are a primary service delivery point and integral to the quality of service and care.

Quality of Service and Care: It is necessary not only to say what you do, but to do what you say professionally, effectively, and consistently. In short, your operational processes from the first telephone encounter to discharge should be equal parts quality of care and quality of service. With more and more personal responsibility for payment comes the expectation that patients will be treated as paying customers.

Differentiation: There is an old adage - Pick a young doctor and an old lawyer. The moral?
Experience counts in the court room, and experience with new technology counts in the operating room. It may not be fair, it may not be right, but it is. Providing quality of service equates directly to the perception of competence. You may be getting away with doing things the way they have always been done, but not for long. The industry is changing, and perceptions and expectations have changed, and are changing, with it. Those who fail to adapt will likely be employees of those that do.

Expectation # 1 - Access to Care:The primary decision metric for most patients is accessibility. Waiting in line may enhance the guest experience for Disney, but waiting to be seen when you are sick and scared, whether it is for an appointment or in the waiting room, does not enhance the patient experience. In fact, it complicates it on numerous levels including clinically. It impacts physician and patient referrals, patient retention, patient acquisition, patient attitude, patient perception, and a host of other issues Prompt, professional, and accessible win the day every time. For specialists in particular, long waits for appointments have much more to do with patient screening and the quality of their referral system than logistics. Attracting appropriate patients, and using RNPs or PAs to assess patients can broadly expand accessibility - and solve a myriad of problems.

Meeting patient expectations is more than accommodation, it is risk management (happy patients do not sue), effective competition and improved clinical care (good patient experiences lead to better outlooks, outcomes, an enhanced sense of security and wellbeing). Meeting patient expectations is also a practical reality, and the sooner steps are taken, the better your outlook.

James Doulgeris is senior strategist for healthcare with HCP Associates, in Tampa, Fla. He has more than 35 years of healthcare and biotechnology executive management expertise, including serving as president, CEO, and on boards of directors for for-profit, non-profit, public and private companies in the hospital, ancillary provider, medical device and healthcare services industries. E-mail him here.