Warning, patient experience! Is dissatisfaction driving hospital revenue to the ground?

by Adelina Mihaylova
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Today’s patients are better informed than ever when it comes to selecting where they receive medical care. Customers have all the available tools to compare patient experience at different care providers or even switch to an alternative if they are not satisfied. How a patient and their family experience care is a key deciding factor when choosing a healthcare provider. Therefore, to stay ahead of the competition, modern organisations need to better understand their patient’s journey.

The high cost of unhappy patients

Unsatisfactory patient experience (PX) can shrink margins for healthcare organisations by increasing the number of malpractice lawsuits and employee turnover rates, drops in patient loyalty. These are just a few of the negative effects associated with low patient satisfaction scores. Ultimately, the phenomenon of the “unhappy patient” leads to lost revenues and proves much more expensive than one can expect.

Putting patients in the centre: the value behind an improved patient experience

Undoubtedly, measuring patient outcomes should be one of the top priorities for healthcare providers. The metric should be a focus of strategic decision making, as well as day-to-day operations. However, clinical outcomes, i.e. how a patient feels, functions, and survives, goes hand in hand with patient experience, i.e. how patients interact with the healthcare system during their stay at the facility, including communication with doctors, nurses, staff as well as health plans. Often the hospital staff neglects the patient’s perspective and overlooks experience as a factor in overall treatment success. This can have negative financial implications for the institution since reimbursements for healthcare organizations are tied, in part, to patient satisfaction scores measured via surveys such as the HCAHPS, as it is in the US. In some cases, poor survey results could lead to hospitals losing reimbursements and rising costs.
Thus, improving patient experience should be a key priority for healthcare providers that want to reap its multiple benefits:

  • Strengthen employee engagement and retention
  • Improve clinical outcomes
  • Build a strong brand perception
  • Boost hospital workload through increased referrals of physicians
  • Increase revenue and profit margins

Higher employee engagement & retention

It is not a secret that nowadays employee turnover in clinical facilities is on the rise. This is a source of major concern for hospital executives since it is a key indicator of future financial performance and patient satisfaction. Unhappy patients are a source of additional stress for employees. They, in turn, slowly grow more disengaged, are in a higher risk of burnout and ultimately – leaving the hospital. High employee turnover is always heavy on operational costs with additional spending on recruitment, new employee induction and managing operational downtime. This means organisations cannot afford to neglect this problem. Studies have shown that patient experience initiatives do have the potential to increase employee engagement. A recent example comes from Northwell Health where patient experience education initiatives have played a role in driving up employee engagement rankings to the 80th from the 46th percentile across the U.S.

Improved clinical outcomes

Better patient experience can also contribute to improved clinical outcomes, which is ultimately one of the top goals for healthcare facilities. In fact, there is emerging evidence that organisations with a strong focus on providing high-quality patient experience have found it linked to better health outcomes. According to a recent publication by Deloitte, hospitals with “excellent” patient experience scores have higher clinical quality, lower readmission and mortality rates compared to hospitals on the lower end of the scale.

One of the main reasons for more successful clinical outcomes is therapy adherence. The happier the patient is, the more inclined to stick to their therapy. This, in turn, leads to enhanced patient safety and clinical effectiveness for a wide range of disease areas.

Patient loyalty and hospital reputation

It has also been found that hospitals providing positive patient experience have better reputation scores while on the other hand, facilities with low patient experience scores are four times more likely to have poor reputation scores. Patients are mostly influenced by factors like personalized care, accommodations, patient safety, nurses, and overall quality.
Hospital reputation is key to driving future medical services utilization. In fact, more than 60% point out reputation as a very important factor when selecting a hospital for a planned overnight stay. This rings true even more so today, since the patient experience is tied to hospital reimbursements. Since today’s patients freely talk to each other via different online and offline channels, they can be both the best advocates and the worst detractors for a hospital. Looking for recommendations online and sharing stories about healthcare experience are in the top 5 social media activities related to healthcare.

Physician referrals

Referring physicians also refer patients based on patient satisfaction and hospital reputation, among other factors. This leads to an increase in overall volume of referrals to the hospital. Since in many healthcare networks the referral management process relies on data, it comes very handy for a facility to utilize data from comprehensive clinical, operation and financial systems. Presenting referral sources with quality data from such systems is a powerful tool to demonstrate that an organization provides quality care and outstanding patient experience.

Impact on revenues and financial success

Multiple studies have found a strong correlation between patient experience and profitability. According to a recent study by Accenture, hospitals delivering “superior” patient experience achieve 50 percent higher net margins, on average, than hospitals providing “average” patient experience. Another study confirms the correlation claiming that hospitals with “excellent” HCAHPS patient ratings between 2008 and 2014 had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to 1.8 percent for hospitals with “low” ratings. The correlation applies across all hospital types in the sample including for-profit, not-for-profit and government facilities.

The way forward

There is abundant evidence that improving patient experience is a must for modern-day healthcare organizations. Learning how to provide compassionate care for patients and their families is an important factor that can help hospitals stand out among the many.
The way to achieve this is includes utilizing already existing processes and systems to uncover valuable insights behind online and offline patient experiences throughout the continuum of care. To add further value and stand out among competing organizations, it is crucial to be able to act immediately upon patient feedback with the help of PX automation programs and advanced patient analytics. 74% of healthcare executives have shown interest in automating patient experience feedback by using automated healthcare and AI solutions. Are you among the remaining 26% lagging behind?