In consumer-driven healthcare, patients see themselves as customers and expect to be treated as such. Frequently-cited research shows 96% of patient complaints are related to inadequate communication, wait times and disorganized operations—not medical care.1

As value-based performance pushes hospitals and healthcare providers to achieve many objectives, improving patient experience is an extremely important measure of success. Naturally, when an organization loses patients because of poor experience or poor physician referral workflows, they also lose patient volume and, ultimately, revenue. There is too much at stake to expect front desk and patient call center employees to take sole responsibility for improving and/or maintaining patient satisfaction. It must be part of everyone’s job, at every level of the organization, starting at the top.

Why executives should care about the overall patient experience

In the C-suite, patient experience is not just the Chief Patient Experience Officer’s domain. Everyone else on the executive team, including those responsible for finance and marketing, plays a role. Here’s how:

  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO): Competition, more demanding patients, less loyalty, expense control—these are among the pressures facing hospital and health system CEOs today. These all affect a CEO’s decisions on how much to invest in and how to position their unique patient experience. He/she must have a broad view of all the elements, including strategy, technology and talent.
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO): Employees are many healthcare providers’ biggest expense and biggest asset. For that reason, CFOs often have direct or dotted line responsibility for human resources activities such as recruiting, training and retention, all of which significantly impact patient experience. Inadequate staffing in patient access areas not only frustrates patients, it leads to poor billing inputs that can negatively affect revenue.
  • Chief Operating Officer or Vice President of Physician Practices: Among their responsibilities is the physical setting where patients interact with front desk staff, nurses and doctors. This crucial part of the patient experience can deteriorate quickly if the staff is inundated with phone calls for appointments, prescriptions and questions, understaffed or operating without a staffing model that can expand and contract in conjunction with forecasted patient volume.
  • Vice President of Marketing: A healthcare provider’s brand reputation is influenced from the patient’s first phone call to the final bill. The VP of Marketing must communicate to the organization what the promised patient experience looks like, and then work with patient access functions to ensure it is delivered consistently, even during and after acquisitions or consolidations.
  • Chief Quality Officer (CQO): A healthcare organization’s CQO often drives performance improvement across the organization, looking at clinical outcome scores, Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) or Outpatient and Ambulatory Surgery Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, OAS CAHPS) survey scores, infection rates, readmission rates, and market data. They identify where patient complaints come from and provide strong direction for improving and maintaining patient experience.
  • Patient Access Director: Although not at the executive level, the Patient Access Director’s role and impact are critical. The patient-facing functions they oversee, including the front desk and/or call center initiatives, are where many patient experience elements fall short. They must hire the right people, contend with turnover while aspiring to deliver high levels of service, often with limited budgets and resources.

Once executives understand and embrace their roles as patient experience advocates, they should define clear expectations and metrics for their areas of responsibility. Tangible goals at every level can help create a culture of service throughout the organization.

When to be concerned

Patient satisfaction survey scores are one way healthcare providers can assess patient experience, but those insights are few and far between. Indications of trouble spots include:

  • High turnover: Inadequate, inexperienced and inconsistent staff in the healthcare call center and other patient access areas can directly affect patient experience quality.
  • High call abandonment rate: If more than 8% of patients hang-up before someone answers, staffing may be inadequate and lead to patient leakage.
  • Slow speed to answer: Calls should be answered within 60 seconds, on average. If they’re not, patient experience suffers.
  • Less than perfect quality and accuracy: If these metrics are not more than 99%, or they’re unknown, call center staff answering the phone may not be delivering a predictable, repeatable experience to every patient with high customer service and proficient data collection.
  • High claims denials: Claims denial rates in large hospitals more than 250 beds range from 7% to 10.5%.2 If more than 15% of these denials are the result of incorrect or incomplete data up front, the call center staff may be overwhelmed or undertrained.
Improving patient satisfaction

Strategically, healthcare organizations can make patient experience a high priority at every level and in every function through tangible performance metrics, consistent messaging from the top and a service-oriented culture. Tactically, it may take outside help to achieve those goals.

Many providers outsource their call centers and other patient-facing functions to experts with specific healthcare experience, highly trained staff and the latest technology to help manage, track and measure service. A centralized medical call center can help improve and streamline registration, scheduling, billing, collections and patient referrals to create a top-quality patient experience.

Learn more about how to improve your medical call center performance.

1 Advisory Board. April 28, 2016.
2 Ayla Ellison. Becker’s Hospital CFO. March 13, 2017.

Keith Slater

About the author

As our Vice President of Patient Access Services, Keith Slater oversees the services strategy for our Patient Access business initiatives for hospitals, health systems and physician practices.  With 27 years experience exclusively in the healthcare vendor and services space, Keith has held executive roles at companies such as MED3OOO (pre-web2pro acquisition), Elsevier Clinical Solutions, Henry Schein and Misys Healthcare Systems with key roles in helping providers optimize their operations through technology and service excellence.