New Year’s Resolutions for Your Patient Experience

The following is a guest blog post by Sarah Bennight, Marketing Strategist for Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms

December certainly brings a flurry of activity to our year. With Christmas shopping, holiday parties, vacations, final exams, and performances, this month is easily the busiest. Upon taking some time to look back and reflect on the past year’s accomplishments, our goals immediately come to mind.  What can I do better in the upcoming year? Statistics show that about 45 percent of adults make New Year’s resolutions, and only half of them keep their resolutions six months into the new year. The top resolutions include: weight loss, smoking cessation, and starting an exercise and/or healthy eating program.

With so many concerned with health improvement, New Year’s is a great time to work on improving the health of your patient experience programs. This past year,  stellar experiences and consumerism were on top of healthcare marketer’s minds (em dash) and it’s safe to say the trend will continue into the new year. Here are three resolutions to get you started in 2019.

1. Know your patient journey Understand your patient journey to better service your patients.

Let’s take a page out of Marketing 101. To understand how to nurture your funnel, you must map out the buying journey from awareness to conversion. While it might seem silly to associate patients to a marketing funnel, the process is very similar. Only in healthcare, we have many more touchpoints and possibilities, multiple providers, locations, etc.

Mapping out typical patient transaction scenarios along a healthcare journey is imperative to serve them in the best way possible. Do you know where patients might be getting lost in their own journey? Resolve to solve these gaps to avoid a frustrated patient, or even worse, a gap in care.

I recently had a broken journey experience. My daughter needed to see a specialist and was referred from her primary care physician. The specialist informed us we would not be able to attend the appointment if the referral had not been authorized prior to the visit (three weeks out). Two different entities thought the other was pushing the referral through. The day before the visit, I received a phone call indicating that no referral had been issued. I was lucky to catch the voicemail early and before they cancelled her appointment. I spent over an hour that afternoon coordinating between two offices to get the referral and to keep the appointment. It was a highly frustrating process that could have been avoided with a streamlined process for handling referrals. Luckily, I absolutely adore my child’s pediatrician practice, and they were willing to bend over backwards to rush her referral.

2. Improved communications – Audit patient contact points and automate when possible to improve communications and service time.

With consumeristic tendencies, patients and caregivers want the easiest route to reach their providers at their convenience. They also expect frequent communications to keep them engaged with their health. How do your patients connect and receive communications from you? Is it easy to understand where to call, text, or email?

I recently spoke with a client whose large healthcare delivery network was running over 80 small internal call centers. Let that sink in. If you are a patient of this network, you have the possibility of needing to connect to 80 different departments for scheduling, billing, labs, referrals, and so on. It’s a recipe for frustration and eventual exiting of the organization.

After your patient journey mapping is complete, lay out your patient contact points. Is there an obvious consolidation strategy to centralize the contact center? Look at streamlining phone numbers, websites, form fills, and email addresses. The more you can centralize, the easier it will be to help your patients. Automating communications where possible can also help with workflows and faster service time for patients. Think beyond just regular automated text and email appointment reminders. You can automate preventative care reminders, allergy season updates, billing reminders, flu shot reminders, and even ‘happy birthday’ messaging to keep patients aware and engaged with you.

3. Listen more, talk less – Learning from your patients will help you improve customer service and ensure patient loyalty in sickness and health.

Patients are extremely passionate about their experiences, but often not asked. We all have more to learn from those that interact with us day to day, but many of us don’t take advantage of this simple learning process. At a recent conference I attended, we discussed client advisory boards. Some attendees were under the impression that clients don’t really want to spend time giving us feedback. I have to completely disagree. I lead our client advisory board programs here at Stericycle Communication Solutions, and have found over the past year that given the right time and place, your organization can benefit immensely by just listening to client goals and challenges.

If you don’t have one already, think about hosting a patient advisory council or patient learning group next year. Incentives could be provided for attendance where appropriate. The important thing to remember is to listen 80 percent of the time and talk no more than 20 percent of the time. Take notes, share with other hospital groups, and take action when possible. Even if having a group onsite isn’t a possibility, consider a quick text or email survey post-visit or procedure. Patients who feel listened to are more likely to continue to utilize your services when further care is needed.

It’s already clear that the patient experience will continue to be a trend in 2019, and with a few of these resolutions, you can be well on your way to excellence in that area. Hopefully, with some early planning sessions, these are resolutions your organization will keep well into the summer, and beyond. If you need help with where to start, give us a call. In the meantime, check out our “Road to Patient Loyalty e-book” to see how the patient journey is impacted by patient needs, communications, and technology.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality call center & telephone answering servicespatient access services and automated communication technology. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms