Customer experience (CX) in healthcare — what it means, why it’s important, and how to do it well
With healthcare costs rising and digital marketplaces offering more choices than ever, the relationship between patients and doctors is increasingly customer-driven. Providers and consumers want a seamless, convenient, and flexible relationship, but many healthcare professionals struggle to create customer experiences (CX) that prioritize compassionate care and efficient, revenue-generating processes.
Fortunately, there are strategies and tools that can improve patient retention rates and help cut provider costs.
To help you create high-quality healthcare customer experiences, this post will explain:
- What customer experience means in healthcare
- Why customer experience in healthcare is important
- Current customer experience trends in healthcare
- How to improve customer experiences in healthcare
What is customer experience in healthcare?
Customer experience (CX) in healthcare is how a patient perceives their online and offline interactions with a healthcare system or organization. It encompasses every stage of the patient experience, from time spent in waiting rooms to using an online patient portal.
While still a relatively new frontier in the industry, healthcare CX greatly impacts whether a patient returns for future care or switches to another provider — and their decisions are influenced by more than interactions with nurses and doctors.
In Press Ganey’s Consumer Trends Report healthcare recipients said communication and customer service mattered more to patients than bedside manner. But the healthcare industry struggles to adopt healthcare CX best practices because it’s difficult for independent providers to design user-friendly patient portals, automate processes, and optimize resources.
Why healthcare CX is important
Accenture reports that 67% percent of patients have had a negative healthcare experience. That means creating a good customer experience can help a practice stand out in a very positive way and determine whether a practice is successful or not.
When CX in healthcare is done well, the provider earns several important benefits.
- It provides a competitive edge. In addition to setting your practice apart from other offices, good CX provides a measurably competitive edge as well. Best practices like optimizing your billing processes maximize revenue while providing a streamlined experience.
- It improves retention rates. Giving patients a great experience will make them more likely to stay with your practice.
- It optimizes the practice as a whole. CX strategies like automating repetitive processes and workflows can help providers spend more time with their patients and less time on administrative tasks.
- It establishes a reputation. Good healthcare CX earns you a reputation as trustworthy and patient-centered, which can help earn more referrals.
- It can save money. Improving productivity by developing better workflows and using digital tools optimizes customer experiences and helps reduce expenses.
Current customer experience trends in healthcare
With the rise of consumerized healthcare, the industry is changing from traditional provider-focused models to a consumer-centric healthcare model. Advancements like the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning have dramatically improved healthcare customer experiences.
Now that providers understand healthcare CX goes beyond bedside manner, emerging trends are revealing a blueprint for responsive and efficient customer experiences.
Chatbots and automation
Chatbots are an excellent way to provide patients with 24/7 support. AI-powered chatbots can help answer basic questions, lowering the strain on nursing staff.
Automation can also help manage repetitive tasks like record keeping, processing claims, or appointment scheduling. This gets administrative work done faster and prevents human errors that could cause irreversible damage to a patient’s trust.
Digital access to healthcare tools via patient portals creates a seamless, self-service experience by collecting information in one location. These healthcare platforms let patients review their medical records, find answers to common questions, and schedule appointments. This saves patients time they would have spent on the phone and gives providers flexibility to focus on other tasks.
The ability to use patient data to personalize experiences allows healthcare professionals to demonstrate a commitment to quality care.
For example, patient data can be used to send exam reminders or create tailored treatment plans based on the patient’s history. This helps customers feel heard, valued, and empowered because they have the information needed to make important decisions about their health.
Sitting in a waiting room can be frustrating when a patient doesn’t feel well, is anxious for a loved one, or receives inconclusive advice that makes them feel devalued. Telemedicine lets patients avoid waiting at the office and allows them to talk with their doctor from the comfort of home. And patients are willing to use it — Press Ganey’s Consumer Trends Report shows that telemedicine usage increased by 337.6% in 2020.
Telemedicine is convenient, especially for patients who may struggle traveling to a doctor’s office. It also helps practices run more efficiently and prevent the spread of contagious disease. Telehealth even expedites follow-up processes because providers can send a direct message to patients.
How to improve healthcare customer experience
With rising healthcare costs and online insurance marketplaces changing the relationship from a patient and provider model to a consumer and business model, healthcare customers expect top-quality medical care and excellent customer service.
Developing strong and effective customer experiences in healthcare requires empathy, technology, and efficiency — but there are two types of obstacles that hinder many providers.
- Administrative processes. Providing accurate, timely, and organized billing and appointment management can be an issue for new independent practices. Inefficient processes take a toll on resources and mistakes can have lasting implications on the provider’s reputation.
- Patient engagement. Healthcare consumers expect highly personalized attention from providers. Patients are likely to avoid a practice if they don’t get adequate guidance using the patient portal or consistent quality throughout the customer journey.
While the core of effective healthcare is compassion, there are tools and strategies for creating a streamlined experience from initial contact to sending the final invoice.
1. Personalize communications
Using personalization to improve the healthcare customer experience is necessary for any practice. Well-executed personalization might include:
- Sending exam reminders
- Providing patients with customized dietary and treatment plans
- Offering recommendations to meet and maintain health goals
- Sharing early warning signs based on the patient’s history
Modern email marketing platforms have machine learning tools that make this kind of personalization possible — from automatic email triggers to filling in personal details on every communication. Hyper-personalization helps patients feel understood, which makes it one of the best ways to build a better CX.
2. Reduce costs
One of the biggest obstacles for medical service consumers is the cost. To combat the rising cost of healthcare, providers are reducing or regulating costs for patients wherever possible.
Optimizing your patient flows and bundling or standardizing contracts are two examples of cost reduction strategies. As you make changes to reduce costs, be sure to communicate what you’re doing and why. And if you can’t reduce costs, share how you’re working to keep them consistent. Your patients will appreciate the effort.
3. Reduce wait times
One of the biggest complaints patients have with their healthcare providers is excessive wait times. Press Ganey’s Consumer Trend Report revealed that 62% of those surveyed said difficulty contacting the office, including long hold times, played a major part in discouraging them from choosing to work with a healthcare provider.
Here are a few ways to lower wait times for patients:
- Use chatbots and FAQ pages to help patients find answers to basic questions.
- Offer self-service check-in via mobile devices so patients don’t have to wait in line and your staff isn’t stuck behind a desk.
- Provide callback options that let patients leave their contact information and keep their place in the queue without having to sit through long hold times.
- Automate appointment scheduling so patients can choose their ideal appointment times while your staff can spend more time on attentive, face-to-face patient care.
- Create and optimize online patient portals that let patients access and manage their medical data safely, quickly and easily.
- Provide live chat agents who can help answer more complex billing, patient portal, or scheduling questions outside of regular business hours.
4. Improve transparency
Patients must feel safe with and trust their healthcare providers. Consumers expect transparency from almost every brand they engage with, and medical professionals are held to the highest standard.
Transparency means always being upfront with patients about cost and ensuring their medical information is easy to understand. Maintaining transparent healthcare practices not only helps patients feel empowered to make decisions about their health, but also offers benefits to providers, too. When a healthcare practice has a trustworthy reputation, increased retention and referral rates often follow.
5. Be available on every channel
Consumers are used to being able to contact an organization on any channel they prefer, so providers need to meet that expectation to provide a modern CX. Press Ganey reported that 24.7% of those surveyed said being able to use private messaging was a deciding factor when choosing a provider. And 48% of respondents said the option to make and reschedule appointments online mattered when choosing care.
Make sure your practice is responsive through email, live chat, phone, and in-person. Most importantly, the quality of the customer experience should be consistent, regardless of the channel used. This means the very best patient CX requires a customer relationship management (CRM) tool that can create a unified profile for each patient no matter how many different channels they use to interact with your practice.
6. Provide 24/7 access
Create touchpoints that help patients manage their healthcare inside or outside of your regular business hours. When patients know they can reach you anytime, they’re more likely to choose your practice over a less accessible competitor. Here are three ways to offer “always-on” services.
- Give patients control over making appointments and accessing medical records with an online patient portal.
- Use chatbots to help answer basic questions or guide patients through managing their accounts.
- Provide an on-call doctor or nurse 24/7 to help patients alleviate anxiety around symptoms, answer Rx questions, or encourage them to seek medical attention if necessary.
This always-on access must not only be available, but easy. Ensure automated or self-service experiences are responsive and fast because anything less will cause frustration and lower engagement.
7. Automate repetitive tasks
Automation is an invaluable CX tool because it helps optimize workflows for both patients and care staff. Investing in processes and software that save patients time helps build trust and boosts overall customer satisfaction.
For example, use software to digitally store and automatically populate patient data so returning patients don’t have to enter redundant information like their name or date of birth every time they check in or contact your office.
Automation also helps your staff by sending out appointment reminders and letting patients check in using a mobile device or computer. Less time spent on administrative tasks allows staff to focus on better patient care and helps lower strain on caregivers.
8. Adopt the newest tech and trends
While empathy should be the driving force behind healthcare, data is almost as important. Data helps providers understand specific patient needs, identify opportunities for improvement, and use those insights to enhance the customer experience.
Keeping up with tech trends can help generate business and retain patients. For example, implementing wearable devices like fitness trackers can help make patient experiences easier and more engaging.
9. Secure the data
Healthcare data is highly sensitive. Privacy is integral to a quality healthcare experience, so patient information must be protected to earn their trust. Integrate powerful security software and keep staff up-to-date on the latest compliance standards to ensure all patient data is secure. Breaches in patient privacy could alienate current and future customers, so protecting data must be a top priority.
10. Take feedback
The best way to know what patients want is to ask them. You get highly targeted insights and the simple act of asking improves your CX because people like to be heard. Giving them a chance to voice their thoughts shows that you care and goes a long way with patients. Here are a few strategies to get feedback from patients.
- Send surveys. Reach out to patients after their appointments with a survey to learn more about their experience with your practice. It can be a simple, short form with just a few questions and a good marketing program can send them automatically.
- Use pop-ups. Eliminate potential hurdles and make it easy for users to provide feedback with a simple pop-up window on your website asking them to participate in the survey.
- Make follow-up calls. These can be via one of your staff or with automation that reads questions and records patients’ spoken answers.
Once the data is collected, look for patterns or common issues and use this insight to create an actionable plan toward a better CX.
Start improving your healthcare CX
Creating quality customer experiences is vital to the longevity of a healthcare organization. Due to increased costs of care and options for providers, modern consumers have high expectations from their doctors.
Real-time data analysis and evolving technology empower healthcare organizations to create a well-rounded and compassionate experience for their patients. Self-service tools let patients check records and make appointments themselves, and a personalized customer journey makes them feel like their healthcare providers actually care.
Taking the first step toward designing great healthcare customer experiences requires a platform that helps you understand and harness the step-by-step patient experience.
With an open system and real-time data analysis, Adobe Experience Platform creates comprehensive customer profiles using AI and machine learning to help you create personalized CX from one platform. Adobe Audience Manager transforms that data into actionable solutions that enrich the customer journey and grow your reach.
Watch our platform story to learn more.