Is patient experience essential to growing your practice?
Recently I was asked by one of my clinical friends who is starting a private practice. "What is the most crucial aspect of building a practice?"
My answer is simple—the experience of your patients.
When your patients love their healthcare experience, they achieve better outcomes. They recommend your service to their friends, family, and other healthcare providers. This delight is the most potent growth channel available for any private practice.
So how do you know if your patient love's what you do? Is it even possible to measure their love?
Each year the United Nations publishes its World Happiness Report, exploring the ranking of countries to the happiness of its citizens. (The happiest nations are almost always nordic.)
Sounds like a time-consuming task? Well, the metrics used by the UN are actually simple to understand and clearly relate to how happy people are: life expectancy, corruption, wellbeing.
What if we did something similar with our patients and created a practice equivalent of the World Happiness Report to find out how much they love what we do?
It's easy to get caught up with vanity metrics. Things that we do as practitioners which don't matter to our patients. These are often the operational or business aspects of our work.
Metrics like how many patients you have, how many sessions they attend, or their treatment requirements are essential, but they're missing something. They can't tell you how the patient feels because they're all about your work, not the patient.
Instead, we need to think about love being the accumulation of satisfaction and engagement. Both are much discussed and cherished but rarely appropriately measured or even understood that well.
Often it's assumed that a high number of patients automatically means you're doing something right. While that's not untrue, it doesn't mean you're providing a loveable experience. It doesn't mean that your patients are engaged or satisfied.
You might have 200 patients, but if most of them aren't sharing their favorable experiences with those around them, they're not engaged. Conversely, if you have 100 patients and half of them are engaging, they're worth more. If they are engaged, chances are there is at least some love for what you do. This is half the battle won.
Assessing if people are happy can be problematic because people are more likely to express a negative sentiment than a positive one, so negativity tends to be over-represented.
Complaining about a bad experience often is a more common behavior for patients. In many ways, this could be a reflection of the feedback loops we have in healthcare. They mainly focus on where someone goes if they have any issues. They rarely capture the moments when a patient has a joyful experience. Complaining is also an expression of frustration; it can be a form of retaliation. But saying something nice? There's not much in it for the customer.
The best way of capturing positive feedback is to simply ask for it. Patients can need prompting, but it doesn't need to be complicated – surveys are arduous and tedious for the patient. Keep it super simple, like a post-session SMS.
And while the Net Promoter Score (NPS) is used by many businesses, in the healthcare environment, it is less relevant. We find a better approach is to use questions that are specifically tailored to your healthcare sector and patients. These should be less open to interpretation than NPS's scale of 1-10.
Remember, success is not just about finding out what a customer thinks. It's about taking action if things aren't right.
If your patient lets you know that there's something wrong, follow it up. Feed is worthless if you don't respond and address the issues. Patients don't expect you to get it right every time. But they do expect you to listen to their experience and address it when possible.
Continuous improvement is making small changes and improvements every day, with the expectation that those small improvements will improve your patient's experience significantly over time.
The typical approach to private practice improvement is to set a significant goal and then try to take giant leaps to accomplish it. While, in theory, this may sound great, it often ends in frustration, burnout, and failure.
Instead, we should focus on continuous healthcare improvement by slowly adjusting our regular everyday habits and behaviors. Many practitioners dismiss the value of making slightly better decisions daily.
Getting one percent better isn't going to make headlines. There is one thing about it, though: it works.
We all want our patients to love what we do. Let's give them a reason to.