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The Patient Experience: 5 Key Principles to Improve It

Everyone wants to provide the best healthcare possible, but it can be difficult to know exactly what patients are experiencing. It's easy for healthcare workers (HWs) to assume that their patients' experiences with them and their care are patient-centered when they don't hear any complaints. But, research has shown that most HWs underestimate how dissatisfied many of their patients are.

Studies have found that at least 1 out of 5 patients would definitely or probably not recommend the hospital in which they were treated to their friends and family. Specifically, almost 4 out of 10 patients reported being dissatisfied with the responsiveness of physicians, while roughly 2 out of 3 complained about poor communication between themselves and their doctors. Less than half felt that their physicians explained things in a way they could understand, and only about 1 out of 4 thought their physicians showed respect for what they had to say.

This begs the question: how can facilities ensure their patients are satisfied with the care they receive? How do you find out if your hospital's patient experience is positive or negative? And, if it's negative, how do you improve it?

How can you determine whether your hospital's patient experience is positive or negative?

There are many ways to go about answering these questions, but one of the best is by using patient experience surveys. Patient experience surveys, also known as HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) surveys or CAHPS (Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) surveys, can provide a wealth of information about what's working and what needs to be improved in your facility.

They can help you identify issues that need immediate attention, such as the severity of pain experienced by patients or whether they were able to get all their questions answered during their visit with an HW. Surveys also offer insight into trends that might warrant further investigation, such as patient complaints about the cleanliness of the hospital.

The important thing to keep in mind is that the patient experience is different for every person. For example, when one person asks their physician a question during an appointment, they may view it as effective communication; but another person may feel intimidated by this same action. Experiences are subjective. Patient experience surveys help you understand how your patients feel about their experiences, but they cannot tell you why they feel that way. Simply using the data collected is not enough to make changes; you should also work with an external agency for qualitative research that will give you insight into what's driving these feelings.

This information will allow you to meet your patients' needs, improve patient satisfaction, and ultimately increase the likelihood of positive healthcare outcomes. Here are 5 key principles to help you make positive changes in your hospital or medical facility.

5 Key Principles to Improve Patient Experience

The following five principles are examples of what your organization can do to improve patient experiences. By working within these core areas, you can ensure that patients feel valued and respected throughout their care journey. What are some ways that you have improved patient experiences?

#1: Communication Skills Training for All Staff Members

Communication is one of the most important aspects of medical care. A 2000 study conducted by Health Affairs showed that medical errors due to miscommunications between healthcare workers and patients accounted for roughly 1 out of 25 deaths annually in the United States. The same study estimated that incorrect diagnoses may be caused by miscommunications at least 4 times per week.

It's crucial, then, to provide communication training for all staff members so they can work on the same wavelength as the patient. Poor communication not only raises questions about your organization's ability to meet patient needs but could result in lawsuits against your facility if negligence is involved.

#2: Empower Patients with Information and Education

People do not always understand their illnesses, treatments, and/or hospital stays. That's where education comes in. By providing patients with all the knowledge they need to feel confident during their healthcare journey, your organization can help them become more assertive and ask questions early on – especially if something isn't clear.

With so much information to take in and understand, however, it's important to consider how staff members can best communicate with patients. How can you make this communication effective for all people?

#3: Flexible Schedules

Since time is such a valuable commodity, your facility must be accommodating to patients who need more time to get the care they deserve. That's why it's key to provide flexible schedules and appointment times. This makes it possible for people who have busy days or work on a limited schedule to get the treatment they need without having to take time off from their jobs, families, and other responsibilities. It also helps prevent patient cancellations and no-shows, which can be significant in terms of lost revenue.

#4: Emphasizing Respect and Inclusion

Almost everyone wants to feel valued, respected and included – regardless of their background or culture. Sadly, this doesn't always happen in a healthcare environment because a large number of providers do not have the training or expertise required to work with people from all walks of life. That's why it's important to hire a diverse staff that includes a variety of healthcare professionals from different backgrounds who can communicate effectively with all kinds of patients.

People have unique communication preferences, so providing patient training and making sure everyone is on the same page concerning your organization's policies and procedures will help ensure time is not wasted with discussions about who can speak to whom or what kinds of languages are permitted.

#5: Focusing on Patient-Provider Relationships

Patient satisfaction is not only influenced by your staff's communication skills, but it also depends upon the quality of their interactions with patients. All providers must be friendly and easy to approach because people will take their cues from the staff members who are scheduled to see them. Providing training about cultural sensitivity and diversity will go a long way toward creating meaningful relationships with patients. Doing so can also help your organization recruit and retain top talent because healthcare professionals want to feel invested in by management.

Many providers may not realize what it takes to create positive patient experiences, so providing them with training can lead to an uptick in the number of patients who come back for checkups, lab work, and other procedures. This bodes well for organizations whose success relies on patient referrals and repeat business.


In many ways, the healthcare industry is similar to other service-oriented businesses in that it needs a strong group of skilled employees to remain profitable. This means investing time and money in finding, hiring, and training the best people who will be a good fit for your facility's culture. Implementing a patient-centred approach can go a long way toward boosting the bottom line and instilling a sense of pride in your team.

The patient experience is something that should be at the forefront of every hospital's mind. If you're looking for ways to improve how your patients feel, then consider these 5 key principles below. You'll want to make sure they are implemented in all aspects of your organization so it becomes an ingrained part of not only what you do but who you are as a healthcare provider and facility. When people come into our care, we need to take responsibility for their health and well-being by ensuring they have access to information about their treatment options, clear explanations on why certain treatments will work better than others based on individual needs (and when those treatments might not work), timely responses from nurses, doctors or other medical staff members when questions arise.


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