You’ve heard that patient-centered care is vital to achieving high levels of quality and efficiency – the basis of future payment models. Evidence shows that providing truly patient-centered care improves patient experience, satisfaction and clinical outcomes. But what exactly is patient-centered care, and how can you implement it in your practice?
Harvard researchers, in conjunction with the Pickler Institute, conducted thousands of interviews to understand what matters most to patients. That research showed certain behaviors are key to patient healing and a positive patient experience. Together, they developed the following eight dimensions of patient-centered care:
- Access to care
- Respect for patients’ values, preferences and expressed needs
- Coordination and integration of care
- Information and education
- Physical comfort
- Emotional support and alleviation of fear and anxiety
- Involvement of family and friends
- Continuity and transition
In the coming months, we’ll look at individual patient-centered dimensions and how you can apply them in your practice. Today’s focus is access to care.
Access to care
Patients want to know they can get care when they need it. This includes:
- Convenient locations for physician offices.
- Ease of scheduling appointments.
- Availability of appointments when needed.
- Accessibility to specialists when a referral is made.
- Ability to get a same-day response to medical questions.
To make sure your patients have excellent access to care, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does my practice guarantee same-day appointments for urgent cases?
If a patient calls with a severe rash or asthma exacerbation and requests to be seen, can you guarantee an appointment that day? If not, consider blocking a few schedule slots for urgent, same-day appointments, or allow your front desk to overbook a pre-determined number of emergency visits. Accommodating urgent patient visits keeps patients out of the emergency room and lets them know you are there when they really need you. That is the ultimate patient satisfier.
- Does my practice provide early morning, evening or weekend appointments?
Do you only see patients from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday? Providing extended day or weekend hours accommodates patients’ schedules and allows them to make appointments when it works for them. It doesn’t take much to shift your schedule slightly and provide office hours one evening or early morning a week. You can also add Saturday morning hours one or two days per month and compensate by reducing your schedule during the week. Extended hours are a must in providing patient-centered care.
- When a patient calls with a question, how long does it take to get a response?
One of the biggest patient complaints is not getting a timely response to phone calls. Patients expect a same-day response to calls made in the morning; patient calls received late in the day should be returned by noon the next day. Someone in your office should call the patient back – even if you don’t yet have the answer to the question. It’s important to let the patient know you received the question, are working on an answer, and when he can expect resolution. For example, if a patient wants the status of a prior authorization, it’s okay to say you have submitted the request and hope to receive an answer within three days. Assure the patient you will be in touch as soon as you know more, and follow through on your promise. Keeping the lines of communication open is instrumental to providing excellent access to care.
- How easy is it to schedule an appointment or to get in touch with your office?
When patients call your office, are they on hold for ten minutes before getting through to the front desk? Does a newly-referred patient have to wait a month or more to see you? Make it as easy as possible for patients to reach you and schedule appointments. That means tracking metrics on phone response times and open appointment slots. Implementing a patient portal and educating patients about its capabilities provides another way for patients to contact you at their convenience. Many portals allow patients to directly schedule appointments and send messages to their providers, which in turn reduces calls to the office and improves phone wait times.
Access to care is a cornerstone of patient-centered care. Providing convenient ways to reach your office, extended hour appointment times, timely response to medical questions and increasing availability of appointments will go a long way toward making your practice truly patient-focused.