How to Make Patients a Priority in a Value-Based, Post-COVID World
Healthcare's transition from fee for service to value-based models is underway with clear objectives for all:
- Healthcare organizations must achieve outcomes to receive reimbursement by improving on quality measures and reducing expenses.
- Providers must navigate guidelines of value-based care models while staying focused on patients’ needs.
- Patients must feel like they’re receiving a valuable service.
But from patients’ point of view, what do value and quality really mean? And how can your organization position itself to thrive, especially amid a potential long-term slowdown due to patient reticence to return post-COVID-19?
Ensuring that your daily operations take into account patients’ perspectives of the often vague term value goes a long way toward becoming patient-centered. Make patients a priority regardless of your healthcare organization’s type or size.
Here are six ways.
1. Make patients partners in care
Many in healthcare resist calling patients “customers,” but whether those terms ever become synonymous doesn’t matter. Patients are consumers who are taking on more of the financial and practical responsibilities for their own health and well-being.
This higher financial burden is occurring through increasing out of pocket costs such as high-deductible health plans. Increased self-service is playing out in advancements like telehealth (including mHealth), physician search/comparison, and portals or kiosks for check-in and diagnosis. The shift provides patients with a bigger stake and a louder voice in what they perceive as value, in exchange for their healthcare dollars.
Provide opportunities for value by giving patients a bigger role in their care. Because we’re in the midst of a pandemic, patients want to know more than ever that they can trust their providers. Foster confidence and:
- Take stock of your organization’s progress in engaging patients in decision-making at every level of their care
- Use patient-centered performance measures
- Educate on the value of sharing responsibility for health and wellness
2. Create an enhanced experience
COVID-19 has created an immediate need for organizations to create cleaner, socially distanced, in-person experiences that skip hard copy forms and minimize the need to move the patient around the facility. Environmental services staff (i.e., cleaning professionals) have never before been so important. As a result, ensure that your organization’s website, emails, and phone communications tout the safety measures all staff are taking. Other basic criteria to create a positive experience include fast and accommodating appointment-making, easy in-and-out visits without delay, and caring providers and staff who follow-up.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, organizations were ramping up amenities to attract and delight patients, beyond offering basic services. While the pandemic interrupted progress toward creating an atmosphere of enhanced patient experience, competition and payer-driven incentives mean that hospitality and ambiance likely will make a comeback, in the form of:
- Plush waiting rooms
- Coffee shops or complimentary food and beverage offerings
- Boutiques, spas, and zen comfort rooms
- Themed hallways and museum-like, curated collections
- Outdoor play areas and gardens
3. Act on satisfaction survey data
Healthcare organizations got onboard with asking patients for their input long ago. Press Ganey in 1985 began surveying and tracking patient satisfaction for widespread comparison among organizations. In 2006, CMS implemented the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), today’s standard survey and data collection method to measure patients' perspectives of hospital care.
Now, online or in-hospital surveys are administered, questionnaires are still mailed, and phone calls are made post-visit. These methods generate a lot of satisfaction data. But failing to analyze and act on it creates a lost opportunity to prioritize patients’ input on value.
A digital platform is an easy way to ask for and receive information about patients’ perception of the value your organization brings, and can:
- Survey patients on their preferred method of wellness checks post-pandemic (telehealth vs. in-person), and solicit other feedback about whether COVID-19 has changed their preferences long-term.
- Apply recognized research methods (e.g., Net Promoter Score), or compile your own research from satisfaction surveys.
- Tailor surveys to address specific value themes and show only relevant questions based on profiles.
- Enable survey completion on a desktop, tablet, or phone.
- Initiate and monitor improvement actions based on patient input.
Digital satisfaction surveys measure the value of your product or service at any time; for example, after a first appointment or following surgery. Trends are visible so you can take targeted actions to improve quality and tout value that appeals to patients.
4. Attend to age-based ideas of value
Convenience and affordability are driving increasing numbers of healthcare consumers to retail clinics and urgent care. Many of them are young—the population that organizations can’t afford to lose. In fact, roughly 45% of people between 18-29 and 28% of age 30-45 have no PCP, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study.
While these patients see the convenience of alternative delivery settings, they might not understand the pitfalls of transactional care and of failing to establish a long-term relationship with a caregiver. For them, it’s not about the brick and mortar location—especially post-pandemic. The more options they have to attend to their care online, the better the perceived value.
Your organization can compete on value by:
- Providing pricing transparency when possible. They know what treatment will cost for common ailments at CVS MinuteClinic but could be turned off by unclear pricing policies at your organization, compounded when insurance companies are involved.
- Giving patients more control over their own data. Use secure online portals to provide access to their history, medications, provider profiles, the ability to research medical treatments, and more.
- Investing in telemedicine. Millennials (ages 18-34) are most likely to want to use telehealth. They're roughly three times as likely to have already tried telehealth compared to other demographics.
5. Explore patient segmentation
COVID-19 forced many healthcare organizations, primarily hospitals, to separate patients based on their disease status (infected vs. not). Some in hard-hit cities went as far as to duplicate or separate emergency departments (EDs), intensive care units, and other departments to accommodate a large number of COVID-infected patients.
This segmentation allowed clinicians to focus on the needs of different types of patients. As a result, some healthcare systems are rethinking their patient processes longer term, for example:
- Primary care clinics might become primarily telehealth-based
- EDs will continue to triage and segment by Coronavirus (or the next pandemic or disease) infected vs. not infected cases
- In multi-entity systems where facilities are in close proximity, some hospitals may be designated as Covid-19 patients only
The goal and intentions of segmentation arrangements go beyond patient value perception, to efficiency, quality, and outcomes achievement.
6. Use social media to your advantage
Satisfaction surveys aren’t the only way to access value-oriented feedback. In fact, social media is fast growing as the primary way healthcare consumers make decisions in selecting new providers. Existing patients use it to exercise their clout by posting to a rapidly growing number of clinician rating sites including:
- Dr. Oogle
LinkedIn-type profiles for providers are becoming more popular on sites where patients search for their next provider. The profiles personalize clinicians by adding photos and ratings, affiliations, and more. Patient voice organizations such as the Leapfrog Group and HealthGrades are popular healthcare community resources for provider search and to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with care.
In addition, more physician and dental practices are tapping into the marketing skills and community connections of their own staff. Allowing staff to highlight the practice or facility using social media in professional ways garners patient testimonials and success stories, builds an online community, and helps solidify a life-long patient experience—all facets of healthcare value to patients.
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