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Creating a competitive edge at your facility: The patient experience

With nearly 500 global retail locations today, and more than $215 billion in annual revenue from its gadgets, streaming services and other business lines, it’s hard to believe Apple just two decades ago faced an uncertain future. At the time, sales were down, and management was weighing drastic and difficult decisions to right the ship.

As part of the turnaround, Apple brought back founder Steve Jobs as CEO in 1997. His remedy? Focus on Apple’s core business and emphasize quality control and the customer experience.

Safe to say, Jobs’ decision to reemphasize the customer experience paid off. Starting with iPod’s debut in 2001, the company has introduced several successful, user-friendly handheld devices, including the iPhone, iPad and, most recently, the Apple Watch. And while Apple’s tablets, phones and computers are visually stunning, the company’s main focus today continues to be around the customer experience. Just visit an Apple Store: From the birch tables and sleek glass products to the genius bar and attentive product specialists, it’s a retail experience that’s second to none.

As healthcare becomes a bigger share of the monthly budget for U.S. families, providers more and more are applying the lessons of successful consumer-brand CEOs like Jobs to their surgery centers and physician practices. Obviously, there are big differences between practicing medicine and selling computers, but this much is certain: When it comes to purchasing healthcare services today, patients are acting more like consumers than ever before. They have seemingly limitless options; they’re shopping around before they buy; and just like when choosing among Apple, HP or Dell for a computer, the “experience” is playing a big role in the provider selection process.

A changing payer environment

Today, patients are essentially payers. According to a 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation study, the average annual insurance premium for a family covered by an employer-based plan increased to $18,142 last year, with some deductibles reaching more than $2,000 per year. In fact, Obamacare exchange plans are marketed based on what percentage of their overall medical care they are expected to cover: 90 percent for platinum plans, 80 percent for gold, 70 percent for silver and 60 percent for bronze.

These higher patient out-of-pocket expenses have meant big changes for providers at the point of service. Patients, too, have evolved because of this cost shifting. And in today’s digital age, they’re researching their options online and shopping around to find the best solution for their situation. This is especially true for outpatient elective or non-emergency surgical procedures, and many facilities have improved the patient experience and embraced price transparency to stay competitive.

Best practices: Building a world-class patient experience

While every outpatient facility is unique, all successful patient experiences share these qualities in common: They’re timely, efficient, effective, equitable and patient-focused. That means no last-minute cancellations, lackluster customer service or poor bedside manner. And just like Apple, ambulatory surgery centers in this new payer landscape are adopting a customer-first model that emphasizes intensive staff training and ongoing development initiatives, particularly around these specific areas:

• Registration: How many patients would prefer to fill out 20 pages of documents by hand rather than using a tablet to provide registration information? Undoubtedly, very few. Today, most patients are accustomed to ordering every consumer product imaginable on a smartphone or tablet. Even more, tablet-based registration systems increase patient satisfaction scores and eliminate keystroke errors, creating a win-win for patients and practices.

• Patient education: While improving patient satisfaction is a top priority for many ASC leaders, the patient billing experience often is overlooked. Patients must know what their financial obligation is going to be as early in the process as possible. Ideally, staff should undergo in-depth training on how to financially counsel patients so they are aware of what their insurance plan covers, what they’ll owe and other possible financial options that may be available. Post procedure, options such as patient portals allow for a high-tech and easy to understand process for patients, which has traditionally been extremely time consuming and burdensome. Additionally, pairing education and technology with a highly professional and sophisticated customer service team, who can articulate the complexities surrounding billing and statements, makes it easier for the patient to interact with your practice. A positive billing experience can not only boost patient satisfaction and loyalty, but also cut costs and optimize revenue.

• Clinical encounters: Are pre-op patients comfortable? What about once they’re in recovery? It’s difficult to know unless they’re asked. Like the hospitality industry, addressing patient complaints and concerns immediately goes a long way in improving the experience. This approach also extends after they leave the facility and are recovering at home.

Data gathering

Want to know what patients like and dislike about your facility? Ask them, if you haven’t already. Patient satisfaction surveys can provide valuable insight such as what referral networks patients are using, as well as key details about an organization’s customer service.

A recent study by University of Utah researchers examines the benefits of customer service surveys. In “Creating the Exceptional Patient Experience in One Academic Health System,” university researchers detailed their findings from a comprehensive seven-year patient satisfaction initiative, the “Exceptional Patient Experience Initiative at the University of Utah Health Care System.”

The results are difficult to overestimate: In addition to higher patient satisfaction scores and lower utilization, “malpractice premiums declined from $10.7 million in 2007 to$7.3 million in 2012, despite a significant increase in the number of physicians practicing and a more than 40% increase in professional revenue.”

“We saw increases in employee satisfaction as well as in patient satisfaction,” the researchers concluded in their 2016 study published in the journal Academic Medicine. “Responses to recent internal surveys rank quality of care, teamwork, and likelihood to recommend facility among the highest-scoring factors.”

This guest column on the patient experience is the first installment of a three-part series by National Medical Billing Services on how physicians and administrators can create a competitive edge at their outpatient facilities.

More articles on surgery centers:
Common ASC coding errors: Orthopedics, gastroenterology and ophthalmology
https://www.beckersasc.com/asc-coding-billing-and-collections/common-asc-coding-errors-orthopedics-gastroenterology-and-ophthalmology.html
5 quick observations on ASC mergers & acquisitions
https://www.beckersasc.com/asc-transactions-and-valuation-issues/5-quick-observations-on-asc-mergers-acquisitions.html
The power of clinical assessment: How ASCs, surgical hospitals can thrive
https://www.beckersasc.com/uncategorized/the-power-of-clinical-assessment-how-ascs-surgical-hospitals-can-thrive.html

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