Improving the Patient Experience: 5 Challenges Facing Healthcare Today

July 24, 2019 Scott O'Connell

In the not-too-distant past, considering the “customer experience” was limited to those businesses involved in the commerce trade. The retail industry, for instance, was quick to realize that good customer experiences could lead to brand advocacy, loyalty, and overall improved customer satisfaction. Over time, other industries took note and began to develop strategies dedicated to improving the customer experience on a personal level. Today, focusing on continued customer experience is at the forefront of businesses among all industries across the globe. 

The healthcare industry as a whole, however, has been a bit slow to adapt as patients have grown more frustrated: More than three-quarters of consumers have a negative view of their healthcare experience. Only recently have organizations within this sector realized patients want (and expect) the same level of personalization in healthcare that they have come to expect (and receive) in their everyday lives. 

Despite acknowledging this desire, most healthcare organizations still struggle to overcome many challenges that prevent them from improving the patient experience and achieving that brand loyalty. Below I highlight five of the top challenges the healthcare industry still faces in the quest to improve patient experience, with insights on how to solve those challenges.  

A doctor, a nurse, and a surgeon looking at healthcare data on tablets

1) Getting a 360 View of the Customer 

Improving the patient experience is a hot topic within the healthcare industry as patients demand to be seen as customers, not just the next appointment. Unfortunately, most healthcare providers and payers haven’t always looked at their work through a “customer service” lens; instead, they’ve focused on the transactional aspect of the encounter, not a relational one. It’s no wonder that healthcare has consistently ranked near the bottom of industry-wide NPS Scores (a scoring-based measurement that gauges customer satisfaction) year-after-year.  

One major obstacle that inhibits collaboration and communication between payers, providers, specialists, caregivers, and most importantly, patients, is the lack of a consumer-grade technology platform that can provide a comprehensive view of the patient by collecting ALL data in one source. Today, most patient data is siloed, which makes it difficult for doctors to get the full picture of a patient’s history to properly diagnose, treat, or provide the best medical care. 

Solution: A lightweight integration platform that allows developers to connect systems rapidly, which would give healthcare enterprises the ability to bring together CRM and EMR data if they desired When physicians have easier access to information that can help them more effectively diagnose patients, they’re able to recommend treatments that lead to positive health outcomes faster.

Young Female Black Nurse and White Male Patient in a Hospital

2) A Lack of Service 

Quite simply, service should be at the heart of the customer experience because if patients don’t receive the level of service they expect, they will go elsewhere for their healthcare needs. Any healthcare organization with staff (doctors, nurses, caregivers) who interacts with patients needs to have the right administration in place. Administrative staff must be adequately trained and equipped to provide and effectively communicate directions, answers, guidance, or knowledge to help educate and reassure the patient that you have their best interests at heart. 

That takes more than understanding the side effects of a drug, for example, or explaining why a claim wasn’t paid. It involves these elements, which prioritize the patient’s experience: 
A courteous and respectful bedside manner
The understanding to properly document and resolve complaints
The ability to be attentive and receptive to patients needs, no matter what the circumstance
The ability to treat patients like they’re your own family members

Solution: Disjointed systems and a lack of consistent tools to assist in provider-patient communication prevent healthcare workers from accessing the relevant and needed information in a timely manner. Shifting from fee-for-service care to patient-centered care (a shift that needs to be adopted across the entire healthcare continuum) involves not only a staff who is properly trained but also one who is properly equipped with the software tools that enable them to perform their jobs efficiently. (I discuss this issue further at point 4 below.)  

3) Inability to Access Data and Information 

Let’s face it, the healthcare industry landscape isn’t an easy one to navigate. Getting your hands on patient data is rife with federal rules and regulations like HIPAA compliance and Protected Health Information laws. Interoperability, or the exchange and interpretation of data, is another roadblock that prevents the seamless handoff of health information between patients, payers, and providers. 

Security protocols and the assurance that sensitive patient information is being adequately protected is both a blessing and a curse:
Personal health data stored safely behind encryption and authentication layers provides patients with peace of mind that the information isn’t getting into the wrong hands. 
Those same layers of security, however, can be a roadblock that inhibits the exchange of data from getting into the right hands and which can be critical to the outcome of patient health.   

Technology will continue to advance. Federal rules and regulations will continue to change. Nefarious “bad actors” will continue trying to steal your electronic health information. 

Solution: Data security within the healthcare industry must adapt and evolve to strike the right balance of protection AND access that's beneficial to all parties involved. 

Hospital staff standing in a circle looking at healthcare data on a tablet

4) The Ability to Provide the Right Tools for Employees 

I mentioned earlier that the right staff with the proper qualifications, character makeup, and experience can help establish a firm footing that promotes an amicable and successful relationship with patients. Matching skillsets to appropriate tasks doesn’t hurt either. But what about healthcare employee themselves? The patient is at the center of the goal to improve the patient experience. That doesn’t mean we can forget about the needs of workers on the front lines.   

A competitive salary and the potential of career advancement opportunities are the very least that employees expect from employers. But there’s more to building an effective -- and lasting -- employer/employee relationship than matching 401(k) contributions and two weeks of paid vacation. Employers must provide employees with the tools that can help them succeed in their jobs. Healthcare organizations need to think about how they can empower those who come in contact with patients by providing healthcare employees with the proper training and technologies to best serve customers.  

Solution: By arming employees with the latest tools, whether it’s a tablet to use in the field, or software that enables seamless communication between them, patients, and patient families, you’re giving employees the resources they need to be more efficient with their time and more successful at their jobs. It also projects an aura that they are an asset worth investing in, which is good for employee retention. 

5) Multiple or Antiquated Systems 

Still running Windows 98? Worse yet, still using paper reporting within your organization to document, store, and leverage patient information? Or maybe you’re one of those healthcare organizations lured into purchasing what turned out to be siloed applications that contribute to poor rather than enhanced communication. Your hope was to gain easy access to pertinent patient data while also getting rid of those unsightly filing cabinets in your office; the reality, unfortunately, didn’t match your expectations.  

Healthcare organizations are frequently caught between the two ends of the spectrum, and to be honest, neither is a good place to be. Operating in an antiquated environment can lead to inefficiencies, errors, and make your business be deemed obsolete. That’s easy to understand. Harder to understand is seeing a technological purchase -- which promised to help map out personalized care plans, once implemented -- provide nothing to drive better health outcomes or improve the customer experience. Those organizations are shocked and disappointed and left with scores of indecipherable (and therefore unusable) data.

Working within multiple systems can be time-consuming on its own, but even more so if the data you have cannot be exchanged, interpreted, or utilized to positively affect the delivery of healthcare for those you treat. 

Solution: You need apps and software that bring together data from disparate sources, combining and collecting it in meaningful ways to give healthcare providers a 360 view of the patient. Doing so enables caregivers to be more productive, efficient, and less likely to make mistakes or overlook an important component towards driving better health outcomes -- and that helps them to improve the patient experience. To that end, decision-makers must consider these issues when choosing future technological purchases to ensure they’re making the right financial decisions for their business, and ultimately those they serve.

How can Appirio Help to Overcome These Challenges? 

Appirio’s Patient Care Management Bolt is our latest solution aimed at supercharging patient engagement and arming health teams with the tools that enable transparency, collaboration, and better communication between providers and between providers and patients (and their families). The results are better health outcomes and higher patient satisfaction scores. Based on real-life lessons and insights gleaned from our award-winning work with Ashfield Healthcare, this Bolt provides a solution to the problems patients and health workers encounter every day. 

To learn more about the Patient Care Management Bolt, talk to a Health and Life Sciences expert today

About the Author

Scott O'Connell

Scott O'Connell is the GTM Manager of Appirio's Health and Life Science vertical. He is an experienced marketing professional with a successful track record of helping companies bring products to market, improving their brand awareness, and fostering customer engagement.

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