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Improving the Patient Experience With Content

Patient experience is a key measure of overall healthcare quality. It commands equal attention alongside clinical outcomes, patient safety, and efficiency and cost reduction measures. Patient education is a significant component of the patient experience. As such, it receives special attention in some primary care and acute care quality measures. So we need to give patients what they want. Clear, concise, and consistent healthcare information when, where, and how they want it. Successful patient outcomes—not to mention reimbursement and reputation—depend on fulfilling these objectives.

Why Patient Experience Matters

Patient experience includes all the interactions that patients have with providers (doctors, nurses, staff) in all healthcare facilities, primarily hospitals and physician practices. Physicians in the U.S. handle more than 1 billion patient encounters every year. It’s safe to say that patient experience is a consistent concern. Furthermore, the Association for Healthcare Quality and Research (AHRQ) says that “substantial evidence points to a positive association between various aspects of patient experience [including] patient adherence to medical advice, better clinical outcomes, improved patient safety practices, and lower utilization of unnecessary health care services.”

“Person and Community Engagement” accounts for 25% of the score that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) use when deciding how much to reward hospitals for the care they give to Medicare patients. The prevailing measures for scoring patient experience are found in Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) surveys. They cover topics like doctor and nurse communication, communication about medicines, and discharge information.

The Patient Education Connection

Several CAHPS survey questions specifically address the subject of patient education, for example:

  1. Before your surgery, did anyone in this surgeon’s office give you easy to understand instructions about getting ready for your surgery?
  2. During your office visits before your surgery, did anyone in this surgeon’s office use pictures, drawings, models, or videos to help explain things to you?
  3. Did anyone in this surgeon’s office give you easy to understand instructions about what to do during your recovery period?
  4. In the last 6 months, how often did this provider explain things in a way that was easy to understand?

While it’s easy to think of the patient experience in more clinical terms, there are obviously multiple para-clinical interactions for focusing improvement efforts. Anyone looking to move the needle on patient experience scores should include a careful review of their patient education platform, including all content and the vehicles for delivering that content.

Where the Journey Begins

We tend to define patient experience in terms of face-to-face engagement between the patient and medical professional or staff. However, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project survey conducted in 2012, 59% of Americans frequently turn to the internet for health information. The number has likely only increased since this survey was conducted, so it’s easy to see that the experience journey begins before any actual appointment or admission. It begins with the online information people (or their caregivers) use to learn more about their symptoms, conditions, treatments, procedures, and operations.

The availability, accessibility, and comprehensibility of patient information plays a huge role in patient experience. Developing healthcare content is a complex undertaking, requiring close collaboration between subject matter experts (SMES, such as doctors, nurses, staff) and content experts (in content strategy, user experience, writing, editing, visual design). SMEs are vital for their profound medical and healthcare knowledge and it takes a content team to convey that knowledge to the various patient populations.

The development cycle, from strategizing content to final design, is an agile process with many moving parts that constantly impact one another on the path toward publishing. Each step in this cycle is worthy of its own blog post. But suffice it to say that each is critical in making a successful contribution to the patient experience.

How Is Your Content’s Health?

When was the last time you conducted a patient information audit? How old is the content on your website? Does it represent the current organization in voice and branding? Is it on par with key competitors in the industry? What authorities vetted and verified the existing content? Is it accurate? Comprehensive? Compelling? Mobile-friendly?

Perhaps the most important question is whether your content will positively impact the patient experience? Keep in mind that this para-clinical experience will impact the perception of the actual clinical experience.

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