We all deserve healthcare providers who treat us with respect and compassion, and consider our personal choices, needs, and values. However, not every experience in healthcare is a positive one. Although most of my healthcare experiences have been positive, I’ve had plenty of negative experiences. For instance, I’ve seen dismissive doctors who ignored my concerns. And I’ve seen several doctors who rush through appointments. Additionally, I’ve experienced frustration while trying to get my medical records or while trying to book appointments with overscheduled doctors. Although it may feel secondary to your doctor’s medical expertise, your patient experience can impact your health.
What is patient experience?
Certainly, when considering your patient experience, you would consider the interactions you have with your doctors, nurses, and other medical staff. However, patient experience is a broad term that covers every interaction you have in healthcare, not just your interactions with medical providers.
Importantly, a positive patient experience relies on whether something that should happen in a healthcare setting actually happens.
For example, consider these issues that can impact your patient experience:
- Ease of making timely appointments.
- Time sitting in the waiting room.
- Ability to understand topics discussed during appointments.
- Leaving appointments with all your questions answered.
- Ease of connecting to your doctor outside of appointments.
- Expense of medical care.
- Effectiveness of recommended treatments.
- Exposure to safety risks and medical errors.
- Ease of access to your medical records.
- Receiving emotional support and concern from your doctors and other providers.
- Cleanliness of offices and facilities.
- Pleasantness of the staff.
- Respect of your privacy.
- Difficulty getting to appointments and/or parking.
- Data security concerns.
Patient experience is not the same as patient satisfaction.
Although many use the terms patient satisfaction and patient experience interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing.
As mentioned above, patient experience hinges on whether something actually happens in healthcare the way it should.
On the other hand, patient satisfaction hinges on whether a patient’s expectations about a health encounter were met. For instance, two patients can receive the same exact care, but since they have different expectations, one may feel satisfied and one may feel disappointed, thus impacting their level of patient satisfaction.
How can patient experience impact your health?
Simply put, better patient experiences can improve your interactions with the healthcare system which can improve your healthcare and your health. Your experience can consciously, or unconsciously, change your behavior. For example, a bad experience may lead you to ignore your doctor’s recommendations or even skip future appointments.
Engaging in your care it very important!
Critically, positive patient experiences can help you actively engage in the healthcare process and with your healthcare providers.
Engaging in your care relates to all aspects of health care, including:
- Participating in decision making.
- Following recommendations for medications and other treatments.
- Monitoring your health.
- Making and attending appointments.
- Making sure you understand your diagnosis and treatment options.
- Speaking up if you think something is wrong.
- Taking part in your physical care.
Importantly, patients who fully engage in their healthcare have better care coordination and a reduced risk of experiencing a medical error.
Communication is key.
Additionally, doctors’ communication styles play a big part in the overall patient experience. For example, if your doctor doesn’t explain your diagnosis and treatment options in a way you can understand, it’s a bad patient experience. And if your doctor speaks to you disrespectfully and/or without concern for your emotional and physical well-being, it’s a bad patient experience.
The importance of effective communication between doctors and patients cannot be overstated. In fact, studies show that effective patient-doctor communication leads to better adherence of treatment plans, better medical decisions, and better outcomes.
Overall impact of patient experience.
Although patient engagement and effective communication are two important factors, each aspect of the patient experience can impact your health care and health. Importantly, research indicates that better patient care experiences are associated with:
- Higher levels of patient adherence to recommended prevention and treatment plans.
- Better clinical outcomes.
- Better patient safety within hospitals.
- Reduced use of healthcare services.
Furthermore, negative experiences can leave you feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
What do patients say about their patient experiences?
Accenture’s 2021 survey of almost 1,800 US adults demonstrates that many people feel unsatisfied with their patient experiences. Importantly, 2/3 of the respondents reported at least one negative experience with a medical provider, pharmacy, or hospital.
What factors cause negative patient experiences?
The survey respondents identified causes of their own negative healthcare experiences, as follows:
- 33% – Not applicable – never had a negative experience.
- 22% – Visit was not efficient.
- 19% – Medical advice was not helpful.
- 17% – Surprised by the cost.
- 13% – Treatment didn’t work.
- 11% – Staff were rude.
- 11% – Didn’t receive emotional support
- 9% – Digital healthcare technology was unsatisfactory.
- 9% – Location was too far.
- 8% – Safety and security protocols weren’t followed.
What are the consequences of a negative healthcare experience?
Importantly, almost all respondents who reported a negative experience indicated the experience had negative consequences, as follows:
- 44% – Stress and/or upset.
- 34% – Less likely to seek medical care next time it’s needed.
- 34% – Switched medical providers and/or treatments.
- 16% – Didn’t keep up with treatments.
- 13% – Didn’t pick up prescriptions.
- 12% – Not applicable – the negative experience didn’t have an impact.
What factors are most important for positive experiences?
Interestingly, respondents chose up to 3 factors they considered most important for a positive patient experience. Their responses:
- 55% – Medical provider who clearly explains condition and treatment.
- 52% – Medical provider who listens, understands patient needs, and provides emotional support.
- 35% – Well-coordinated care and communications between medical providers and their staff.
- 28% – Efficient visits.
- 27% – Nice and helpful staff.
- 22% – A nice, clean, safe office.
- 21% – Affordable healthcare services.
- 10% – Medical provider who uses digital technologies to optimize experience.
Another survey demonstrates similar patient experience concerns.
In an AHIMA 2021 survey of over 1,000 American adults, 76% of respondents leave a doctor’s office with negative feelings, including disappointment in the level of Q&A they have with their doctor, and a need to do more research.
Specifically, 62% reported they don’t’ feel “extremely confident” in their understanding of the health information discussed with their doctor. And 31% stated they can’t remember medical information immediately following an appointment.
Additionally, 24% reported they have left appointments without getting clear answers to their questions, and 17% state they didn’t have a chance to ask questions at all. Unfortunately, 22% reported they don’t feel comfortable asking their doctor certain health questions.
Given these findings, it’s not surprising that 15% reported they sometimes feel more confused about their health after an appointment than they did before their visit.
Family caregiver experiences matter too!
Unsurprisingly, the family caregiver’s experience can be just as important as the experience of the patient. Importantly, 91% of caregivers actively manage their loved one’s health, making the healthcare experience critical for them as well.
Yet, in the AHIMA survey, caregivers are more likely to feel they don’t get clear answers to their questions, or feel they don’t have the chance to ask questions, as compared to patients.
What can you do to improve your patient experience?
Although there is no way to guarantee that every experience you have as a patient or family caregiver will be as it should, there are some steps you can take to help you experience healthcare as it’s meant to be. And at the same time, you’ll likely be more satisfied with your care as well.
Choose the “right” doctors and hospitals.
Certainly, we all deserve doctors who have the clinical expertise to treat us. But we also deserve doctors who explain our diagnosis and treatment options in ways we can understand and include us in decision-making. Additionally, we need doctors who treat us with respect, provide emotional support, listen to our concerns, and respond in a timely manner. And we all deserve a safe care environment.
Since your choice of hospital is important, I suggest you also read How To Choose a Hospital.
Engage in your care.
In order to have the best patient experience, which can help you get the best care possible, it’s essential that you engage in your care. For instance, prepare for appointments and take detailed notes during appointments. Additionally, participate in decision making with your doctor, and schedule appointments and tests as suggested.
Lastly, follow your doctor’s recommendations. However, if you don’t agree with your doctor’s suggestions, don’t simply ignore them. Instead, discuss your concerns with your doctor.
For more tips, read these posts:
- How Can You Get the Best Healthcare? Actively Participate!
- Why Take Detailed Notes at Doctor Appointments?
- Should You Record Medical Appointments?
- The Importance of Shared Decision Making.
- Tips to Take Medication as Prescribed.
Simply put, communicating well with your medical providers can help you get the best care and outcome possible. Therefore, take the time to write down your questions and concerns before every appointment. And during appointments, or even in email conversations, make sure you clearly tell your “story”. Importantly, always make sure you understand what your doctor tells you by repeating the information back to your doctor and asking if you have correctly understood.
Lastly, and importantly, speak up if something doesn’t seem right!
Read 10 Tips to Communicate Better with Doctors to learn detailed tips.
Take charge of your medical records.
Accurate medical records are a key component of healthcare. Importantly, most medical records, including Electronic Health Records (EHRs), contain mistakes. Although these mistakes can range from minor to serious, it’s important for you to make sure your records are accurate. A mistake in your record can lead to diagnostic and/or medication errors, as well as other types of harm.
Therefore, you should regularly check your records and let your doctor know if you see any mistakes. Fortunately, most doctors now use EHRs, making it easy to check your records through a portal. (You can also use these portals to send and receive messages.)
For more information, read Are Your Medical Records Accurate?