Posted on Dec 12, 2016

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Everyone has an opinion on improvements in health care, but not everyone witnesses the day-to-day realities of running a health care practice. Particularly for independent practitioners, the vision is to provide a positive patient experience, comply with the newest outcome-based payment programs and leverage technology to reduce expenses. Although patient care may be their strong suit, practitioners who lack support on compliance and technology investments are the least likely to succeed. The future of independents may rest on this three-legged stool, but they don’t have to balance it alone. In this article, we’ll review the trends in patient experience, compliance and technology investments to help health care practices improve their overall business structure.

What is a great patient experience?

According to the International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM), there are three tiers of outcome measures that patients truly care about when rating their experience with any health care provider.

  1. Health Status is Achieved or Maintained: Did the patient survive and sustain a degree of health and recovery?
  2. Process of Recovery: How long was the duration of recovery or time to return to other activities? Were there errors, complications or adverse effects during recovery?
  3. Sustainability of Health: Were there recurrences of illness or care-induced illnesses that affected long-term health?

When the outcomes that patients truly care about are reported back into the health care system and used to communicate potential outcomes with new patients, it results in a more informed patient experience as well as an opportunity for health care providers to support improvements in care, according to ICHOM.

Admittedly, these specified outcome measures are very individualized. A patient with diabetes is very different from a patient with poor oral health. However, both patients have the same expectations of recovery and sustained health. They also expect that the physicians they see are communicating with each other to integrate care. The best solution ties to data collection — tracking the patient experience from the start of the encounter through recovery and follow-up care.

Practitioners want the collection of data to be easy and efficient. A primary tool has been adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems. According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, adoption rates among physicians are progressing rapidly. That’s due in part to government incentives. However, dental practices have been slow to adopt due to less historic eligibility for cash incentives, cumbersome EHR options and no penalties.

Most EHR systems are not designed to fit dental practice models despite the fact that dentists are open to technology that can make their practices more efficient and profitable. But there are some champions of EHR for dentists such as vendors who are integrating popular electronic dental records systems with secure information transport services. These systems can allow dentists to securely send patient dental data electronically to other medical specialists.

Aside from investing in EHR, practices can implement other low-tech tools to measure the patient experience:

  • Bedside Manner – Ask questions such as, “Is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to talk about?” This dialogue helps patients feel more comfortable sharing other details about their health.
  • Surveys – Electronic or paper surveys can collect data on perceived quality of care, accessibility and courtesy of staff. Some of these surveys are provided for practices as part of affordable care organization models. A survey is only as good as its follow-up analysis and tracking of improved outcomes.
  • Phone Calls – Patient advocates or support staff can check in with patients for a quick interview on their experience and to identify any needs that require follow-up appointments.

Two of the main challenges of these tools are (1) to collect enough data to provide a representative sample of the patient population and (2) to analyze the data gathered into an accurate summary of satisfaction. At minimum, practices should explore some measure of patient satisfaction that can give practitioners and staff a guide to understand where they rank among other care providers and to make tangible improvements.

A great patient experience is a competitive advantage. Small medical groups can’t afford frequent no-shows or disputed bills. Patient satisfaction tools can improve communication between patients and other specialists while enhancing feedback to improve care.

Continue Reading: Which technologies can support compliance as well as practice management?

Cornwell Jackson’s Business Services Department offers a wide range of outsourced financial services to serve small medical and dental practices — including outsource payroll processing and solutions to improve cash flow and productivity. While you focus on care outcomes of your patients, we can address the business side of a healthy practice. Contact us for a consultation.

Scott Bates, CPA, is a partner in the audit practice and leads Cornwell Jackson’s Business Services Department, which includes a dedicated team for outsourced accounting, bookkeeping and payroll services. He provides consulting to clients in auto, healthcare, real estate, transportation, technology, service, retail and manufacturing and distribution. Contact Scott at scott.bates@cornwelljackson.com or 972-202-8000.