Best outcomes for patients a priority

February 28, 2020 | 08:00
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For nearly all of history, the medical profession has measured its effectiveness largely by one metric – clinical outcomes. However, today that focus cannot remain so narrow. Pedro Vilaca, general manager of Siemens Healthineers in Vietnam, explains that, thanks to a combination of market and regulatory trends, there is new emphasis on tracking and improving not only patient outcomes but the entire human experience of being a patient.
best outcomes for patients a priority
Pedro Vilaca, general manager of Siemens Healthineers in Vietnam

While it may mean different things to different people, “the patient experience” as used here applies to the broad, holistic journey that nearly everybody who becomes a patient undertakes from the very onset of symptoms. The patient experience is formed by everyone who comes into contact with the patient along that journey, from front desk receptionists to the nurses and doctors who provide direct care.

Even the physical and virtual environments in which patient-provider touch points occur leave an impression. Opinions are formed by every variable – from the efficiency with which appointments are scheduled and completed; to the quality of the technology employed to diagnose and treat the patient; along to the comfort and decor of the facilities where care is delivered.

The goals of improving the patient experience are extensive. Beyond producing happier and more satisfied patients, healthcare providers also hope to see patients become more trusting of the medical advice they receive and hence more inclined to follow it – which can lead to better clinical outcomes and so reduce costs throughout the healthcare system.

The challenges associated with this new focus on the patient experience are two-fold. The first is identifying the most important aspects of the patient experience, while the second is figuring out how to improve in those areas.

Fortunately, many leading healthcare organisations have already undertaken extensive efforts to improve the patient experience. Their initiatives have generated quantifiably positive results, suggesting a way forward for other organisations that wish to join them.

It can be envisioned as a four-part framework. The first part begins with engaging patients and their families in managing their health and wellness early in their care. Secondly, the diagnostic experience must be optimised using patient friendly technology.

Third, throughout the patient journey, healthcare providers should also seek to deliver outcomes that matter to their patients – including fewer side-effects and complications, shorter recovery times, and positive long-term therapy results – by personalising treatment.

Finally, providers have to seek to sustain patient loyalty by making it easy for patients to access their healthcare data and their care-givers, and by improving care continuity via automated outreach.

Over the past two decades, new customer-centred technologies have reshaped the way consumers interact with their service providers, from their favourite online shopping sites to their car insurers. Now patients expect the same sort of personalised, frictionless interactions with their healthcare providers that they get from other organisations.

When they do not get the interactions they crave, patients can quickly let the rest of the world know thanks to social media as well as a wide range of information-delivering websites. This has made it easier for the new breed of medical customer to share with other consumers his or her experiences with healthcare providers and, in turn, to be informed by the experiences of others.

In short, there has been a broad social shift away from a world populated primarily with passive patients to one where medical consumers want to be more deeply engaged in their healthcare and are more cognisant of who can accommodate their wishes.

The 2018 survey by the Vietnamese Ministry of Health showed positive improvement in patient satisfaction. The average patient satisfaction index in Vietnam reached 4.04 out of five compared to 3.98 out of five in the previous year. The survey primarily focused on health check-ups and examination services.

However, there are obstacles in improving the patient experience. For one, changing culture may be the biggest. It requires that leadership clearly buy into and promote the idea that improving the patient experience is a high priority. Even where that leads to success, sustaining culture change can be difficult.

Beyond culture, hospitals trying to improve the patient experience can be challenged by factors such as overcrowded facilities that are often, for the moment, out of their control.

One way to mitigate potential patient frustration in that situation is to deploy dedicated personnel to care for those patients, set expectations, answer questions, and provide any assistance they might be able to deliver. Striving for efficiency in all aspects of operations can also help turn around challenging experiences.

Ultimately, the key takeaway point for healthcare providers is to remember that the patient experience comprises of a myriad of details that, when addressed holistically, can improve clinical outcomes.

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