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Monday, January 31, 2011

A Visit to One of Your Employed Physicians May be the First Exposure Patients will have with Your Hospital. What Kind of “Patient Experience” will They have?

Steve Wilkins
Guest Post by Steve Wilkins
Now that over 50% of physicians are employed by hospitals, this is question that is on the minds of progressive hospital executive teams. With good reason. Patient-reported outcomes, including satisfaction and loyalty, are going to play an increasing role in determining how much hospitals and physicians are paid. This means that astute hospital marketers will be able to build a strong business case for investing in programs aimed at creating superlative ambulatory and inpatient experiences for patients.

But Our Physicians Already Have High Patient Satisfaction And Loyalty Scores

Health care executives should take little comfort in the high patient satisfaction and loyalty ratings found uniformly with just about every physician. Generally speaking, “one can assume that the quality of care is, actually, worse than surveys of patient satisfaction (suggest)”according to Avedis Donabedian, MD, the father of today’s quality movement. Donabedian goes on to say that “patients are, in fact, overly patient; they put up with unnecessary discomforts and grant their doctors the benefit of every doubt, until deficiencies in care are too manifest to be overlooked. “

Just look at the quality of physician-patient communication, a key ingredient of the “patient experience” in the physician’s office.
  • In only 26% of the visits are patients allowed to complete their opening statement (agenda) without interruption (by the doctor); in 37% the physicians interrupted; and in 37% physician never asked about the patient’s visit agenda.
  • Studies suggest that patients do not express their health concerns, expectations or opinions in up to 75 percent of physician visits principally because their doctor never asked.
  • Primary care physicians typically spend less than 60 seconds informing patients how to take new medications…or why.
  • Primary care physicians and patient disagree about the diagnosis, treatment, and cause/severity of their condition over 50% of the time.
  • Over 50% of patients walk out of their doctor’s office not understanding what they were told, including why or how to take their medications.
For their part, patients today are hard pressed to rate the effectiveness of their relationship with their doctor. The evidence conclusively shows that poor physician-patient communications is the norm rather than the exception. As such, most patients do not appreciate all the ways in which their doctor could in fact do a better job communicating with them.

Why Is Any Of This Important?

Simple. In the near future, your hospital and physicians will be paid according to things like how well they communicate with patients. More importantly, high quality physician-patient communications is highly correlated to improved outcomes, fewer hospital re-admits, fewer medical errors, improved patient compliance and increased patient satisfaction and loyalty.

So if you marketing team is looking for a simple and effective position strategy, consider improving the way your physicians and patients talk to each other. This strategy is so simple no one else in your market will be able to figure out what you are doing. But that’s OK…because your patients will sure see the know!

Steve Wilkins, MPH is the author of Mind the Gap.  His posts appear regularly on Better Health Network,  and the Wall Street Journal Online Edition.   Mr. Wilkins, and his company Smart Health Messaging, focus on developing evidence-based solutions for improving the quality of communications between physicians and patients...and in so doing, improve safety and outcomes, increase adherence and satisfaction and reduce costs.


Jamie Verkamp said...

Great article and insights, thanks for sharing Steve and Karen! Hospital systems (and physicians) certainly face many challenges and struggles as more physicians and clinics become integrated with the larger systems. The patient experience is an area they cannot afford to let deterioate during the process.

Karen Corrigan said...

I agree, Jamie. It's important for healthcare leaders to understand that brand reputation is built more powerfully through customer experience than through promotions - and the frequency at which most patients visit a doctor vs. experience a hospital stay is a multiple greater. Patient experience should be designed and engineered at all primary access points.