What Can We Learn From The History of Patient Experience?

John Zimmerer, VP of Vertical Marketing Healthcare at Smart Communications

Next year marks the 30th anniversary of the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) program, which was created in 1995 to give the healthcare industry clear metrics for assessing patient experience and quality of care. 

Yet the results have not improved after three decades of measuring patient experience. In 2023, a Harris poll reported that 73% of U.S. adults felt the healthcare system failed to meet their needs somehow, and two-thirds reported that managing healthcare is “overwhelming” and “time-consuming.”

So, what’s driving such poor patient experiences, and what can healthcare IT do to help?

Why has patient experience not improved?

As with so much that challenges healthcare leaders, the most significant factor in patient dissatisfaction continues to be the lasting impact of COVID-19. Providers are burnt out, spread few and far between, and leaving the profession in record numbers. That has meant longer wait times, shorter visits, and less satisfactory patient experiences. 

The pressure is showing. That same Harris poll found that 66% of adults reported that healthcare providers appear to be more rushed than in the past, 71% are concerned that the demands on their providers are onerous, and 47% believe their providers are burned out or overburdened. 

Has technology worsened the patient’s experience?

We can lay some blame at the feet of the digital revolution in healthcare that COVID-19 accelerated. While necessary and beneficial in many areas, the emergence of telehealth meant clinicians already up to their ears in patient care had to learn new tech platforms to deliver care. Because hospitals had to adopt the technology quickly, clinicians had to navigate tech stacks cobbled together on short notice, resulting in inefficiencies and usability challenges. 

Patients notice these challenges in their experiences with their providers and their healthcare platforms. To add to the dissatisfaction, these experiences are happening at a time when other consumer-facing organizations, particularly in retail and finance, have upped their game in digital experiences, throwing the state of healthcare technology into stark relief. 

The main challenges patients face when it comes to a digital healthcare experience are:

  • Too many apps, forms of communication, and places to fill out information. Many of these apps were intended to be point solutions to address a specific need, but did not take an enterprise wide view into consideration.  
  • Lack of health system-wide communication/information regarding patient info. 
  • Worries about health record safety due to constant breaches in healthcare.

What can healthcare IT do to help improve patient experience?

1. Re-evaluate the tech stack 

“Fewer and newer” should be the mantra of healthcare providers’ enterprise architects. Providers need to prioritize choosing an end-to-end platform rather than point solutions. This will allow them to consolidate their tech stack, save money on license fees and maintenance, increase resiliency, and improve the patient’s experience.

An optimized tech stack will allow forms to be auto-filled using preexisting data in the database, create patient-first forms with higher accessibility and avoid the friction/ confusion of multiple-point solutions/apps. It also allows for patient self-service and in turn, the choice of when/where to engage in communications. These minor pain points add up over time and can even drive patients away from the healthcare they need. 

2. Fix your forms

Not everyone has the time or ability to spend hours filling out forms before an appointment. Digitizing paper forms using point solutions like Formstack or pushing web platforms like Adobe Experience Manager to capture patient data is not enough. In fact, it’s not about the form at all. It’s about the experience on top and the process underneath.

Look to simplify the patient’s experience during the data collection and streamline how you extract value from that structured data. Providers should consider why they collect the data and what must happen downstream and look to reduce the patient’s effort to provide, enhance, or update the data that drives their processes. The bottom line is, consistency, familiarity, and simplicity reduce customer effort, increase customer satisfaction, and improve the patient experience.

3. Improve patient communication

Clinicians can and should leverage the built-in capabilities of the electronic health record (HER), practice management, or other healthcare management systems they’ve invested heavily in for provider-to-patient and provider-to-provider communications. While these tools require time to implement and learn, they allow for more efficient clinical workflows and offer a clear line of communication to/from the patient. 

When providers need to enhance and extend these capabilities and for non-clinical communications, integration and automation is important. Integration reduces context switching and keeps the clinician in a familiar environment. It also enables partially or completely automating the creation of communications, reducing the administrative burden on clinicians and staff.

Improved patient experience and communications improve overall well-being, accessibility, and health system success. Patient communications haven’t improved much since the 1990s, but the bottom line is that they need to. Patients deserve to feel taken care of, and clinicians desire a better work environment. 

About John Zimmerer

John Zimmerer is the Vice President of Vertical Marketing Healthcare at Smart Communications, where he acts as a subject matter expert on the digital transformation of customer communications and data-centric, often form-based workflows. Most recently, John has been researching and writing about improving customer experience in healthcare and is regarded as a thought leader in this area. John has over 20 years of software product marketing experience. His areas of expertise include market research, analyst relations, public relations and digital marketing.