Consumer expectations for healthcare are increasing. More and more, patients expect an excellent patient experience at every touchpoint. This shift marks a sea change for healthcare as a whole. But for vision practices, which have long included retail elements like eyeglass sales and on-demand care, the patient-centric approach is already here. In vision, the bar for patient experience is higher.

Here are some strategies used by eye care practices to improve patient experience, including during the inevitable occasions when that positive experience breaks down:

1. Commit to Understanding Patient Experience

In order to re-center a practice around patient needs, businesses should understand the distinction between patient experience vs. patient satisfaction. Patient satisfaction refers to whether a provider fulfilled a patient’s expectations about an encounter, e.g., receiving an annual exam or a frame adjustment. A patient satisfaction about the exact same visit could differ based on patients’ varying expectations.

Evaluating patient experience, on the other hand, requires the provider business to dig into concrete aspects of the encounter and report on these aspects importance.

“To assess patient experience, one must find out from patients whether something that should happen in a health care setting (such as clear communication with a provider) actually happened or how often it happened,” according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Clinics that focus on the patient experience will retain and gain more clients than those striving simply for patient satisfaction. So, resolve in 2020 to study up on patient experience concepts—and apply them both inside the clinic and between appointments. For more information, read Calibrater’s case study on the use of Net Promoter Score as a metric for patient experience.

2. Learn about your patients

Once you’ve learned about patient experience in general, it’s time to learn specifics about your patients. Building your practice on principles of empathy and personalization will result in return patients.

Aaron Neufeld, OD, of Los Altos Optometric Group makes a point of learning three things unrelated to eyecare or health about every patient. He then uses that information to build relationships and pitch eyewear specific to their lifestyle.

“By getting to know my patients at a deeper level, I can establish a base which I can use to customize an experience for the patient—I know how to gauge conversation, recommend eyewear and further market to the patient,” Neufeld writes in Review of Optometric Business. He also encourages both his staff and providers to learn about their patients to make them feel “warm and content” during their visits.

3.  Build an empathetic employee culture

A business’s employee culture is currently “the most overlooked piece of customer experience strategy,” according to customer experience expert Blake Morgan. In her Forbes column on customer experience predictions for 2020, Morgan wrote that an effective employee culture translates into widespread thoughtfulness about how each employee’s work affects customers and the overall company.

In the case of healthcare, customer experience takes on a uniquely personal dimension—all the more reason for providers to prioritize patient needs eagerly and with sensitivity by building and training a strong and secure team. Make sure that your employees support the mission of your practice, and reward them for demonstrating good principles of patient care.

When an employee works through a service recovery plan with positive results, praise them and make their work an example for the rest of your team. Lead by example, and encourage your employees to lead as well by applying lessons to their own corner of the practice.

Patients can tell when they’re being treated by a happy team member. A culture-based approach creates a strong foundation for an excellent patient experience.

4. Respond quickly to complaints

Despite best efforts, organizations inevitably have service breakdowns that leave customers feeling dissatisfied. That’s why service recovery is so critical in healthcare. Arguably, the most vital moment in shaping the patient experience occurs when that experience is negative.

In addition, preventing an unhappy customer from shifting their business to a competitor (and writing a nasty online review on the way) makes a big difference in today’s competitive healthcare ecosystem.

Calibrater’s original research on the topic of service recovery found that a quick response time is paramount. Quick responses help curb negative social media reviews, as well as decrease the chances of a patient speaking negatively about your service to friends or family.

5. Respond in a personal manner

Negative complaints are going to happen. Use them as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with that patient. Calibrater’s research shows that responding with a phone call is best. Use persistence to contact the unhappy patient when necessary. And, ahead of time, prepare a loose script for your employees to use.

Dr. Neufeld even goes so far as to say that the response should come directly from the doctor or other senior member of the clinic. He argues that this higher-level response shows genuine concern.

6. Make sure patients feel heard

Part of actively listening is taking ownership of mistakes, as well as empathizing with the patient. Start by reviewing the complaint before you reach out. Put the patient at center stage by stressing that this is an opportunity to voice their opinion. Tell them that you and the team care about hearing their feedback.

Be sure to keep your questions open-ended, and emphasize that their feedback will help you improve your practice. If necessary, offer a HIPAA-compliant space to discuss treatment concerns.

7. Clearly communicate next steps

First, work with the patient throughout each step of the process of rectifying their bad experience. Take concrete steps that demonstrate your willingness to go beyond basics—consider placing a rush on lagging prescriptions or even offering to cover the cost of their service.

Secondly, create a system of accountability for your employees. Create a clear process to understand who owns each patient complaint, and how issues are tracked and resolved. It’s important not to let anything slip through the cracks.

Use the patient’s feedback to help everyone on the team learn from the experience. If possible, make regular time to review service recovery “lessons learned” with the team.

For more insights, see Calibrater’s study on best practices in service recovery for healthcare providers. We held a series of phone interviews with clients from all over the country. Interviewees included patient experience executives, clinic managers, and providers. The study uncovered which practices and processes have yielded the best results in service recovery.

Service Recovery Best Practices

We interviewed clinic managers, providers, and patient experience managers from our customer base to help identify the most crucial components of service recovery in the healthcare industry.We interviewed clinic managers, providers, and patient experience managers from our customer base to help identify the most crucial components of service recovery in the healthcare industry.