One of the major transformations occurring in healthcare today is the shift toward seeing the patient as a consumer. Similar to other industries that are driven by customer service, health systems are recognizing the impact the patient experience has on consumer loyalty, institutional reputation and topline financial results. The business case is clear. And rather than being an industry push, patient experience now has a meaningful pull – 82% of health systems recognize patient experience as a top priority, and 89% of consumers reported that their experience is extremely important, according to The Beryl Institute’s recent research, The State of Patient Experience 2017: A Return to Purpose.
The lesser understood story about patient experience is its potential to improve patient engagement, staff engagement and even clinical value for patients. In my field of diagnostic imaging, the patient experience has been shown to be a critical component to getting the image right the first time. In MR imaging, the biggest impediment to a diagnostic quality scan is patient movement. When patients move – due to stress or discomfort – imaging quality is likely to be compromised. That can mean repeat scans and delayed time to treatment for patients. It can also mean frustration for staff and radiologists and consternation for radiology administrators who need to do more with less.
Staff Engagement is Key to Patient Experience
A patient’s care experience is directly dependent on the engagement of their caregiver. Staff involvement plays an essential role in how the patient views their exam and subsequent treatment as cited in the Institute’s report that 68% of health systems recognize that highly engaged employees are key to the patient experience. When it comes to a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam, there is a human-to-human interaction that no machine can replace, and technologists are on the front lines of guiding patients and their families through this often stressful situation.
However, if the staff finds themselves overworked, stressed or burdened with reporting tasks or technical complexity, it is the patient who will ultimately be at risk. Having technology that supports a positive patient experience by making the technologist’s job easier can create a stronger patient-staff dynamic.
Reducing Patient Stress to Improve Imaging Outcomes
As consumers of healthcare, today’s patients are making decisions on where to receive treatment based on their expectations of service and preferences. We are seeing patients choose imaging locations that provide a less stressful situation over those that are far more convenient. Based on our experience, we know patients travel hundreds of miles to experience a more comfortable scanner experience with open scanners, rather than going to a more convenient location with smaller, closed scanners.
In addition to impacting their facility choices, patient stress in MR exams inflicts a high clinical, operational and financial toll, leading to reduced workflow and patient dissatisfaction. When patients feel apprehensive, they are more likely to move and distort the exam. Such motion complications cause 1 in 5 MRI exams to require a rescan, which can cost an institution an estimated $592 per hour, and a $115K loss per scanner every year. In this way, patient comfort is fundamental to guaranteeing high-quality diagnostic images.
One way to reduce patient stress is to humanize the experience by providing consistent communication throughout the process and create an interactive atmosphere from start to finish. Communicating the smallest details, like how the scanner table will move or how long the scan may take, will help set expectations and dramatically reduce patient anxiety. It’s not just the patient that needs empathy and comfort but the patient’s family as well. The Beryl Institute’s research confirms that the majority (80%) of respondents believed patient experience efforts have a positive impact on reducing patient and family anxiety to a great extent.
Letting Patient Experience Lead the Way
Across the industry, patient experience efforts are becoming an integral part of the fabric of care delivery and are being recognized as drivers for measurable outcomes. In the imaging field in particular, real insights from real patients are increasingly important to understanding their needs. By focusing on the people behind the images and by creating a calming, supportive environment, technology vendors and clinicians across the continuum of care can join forces to improving imaging outcomes and clinical value for patients.
Martijn Hartjes is an experienced healthcare executive with a professional track record in multiple disciplines of the medical device industry. Currently, he serves as senior director, head of global MR product marketing at Philips. In this role, he is responsible for the global MRI marketing function, leading product management, clinical portfolio management and product marketing.