3 Ways to Nail the Patient Experience during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted on Posted in Strategy

Everyone is touched by the grief and total disruption of life as we knew it as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In patient care environments, prevention of disease transmission, with its many protocols and inconveniences, dominate the patient experience – chipping away at nearly a decade of progress towards patient-centered care.

On the plus side, healthcare providers are doing a phenomenal job making care environments safe.  Yet COVID-19 weariness is evident, with fear and stress affecting patients and providers alike.   And let’s face it… the “new normal” is not a welcomed normal.  What’s welcoming about furnishings taped off like crime scenes to emphatically state “you’re NOT welcome to sit here.”  And masks couldn’t be more impersonal.

Add to that three new patient experience dilemmas born of this pandemic:  1) patients isolated from loved ones; 2) patients feeling vulnerable, left to navigate their care without an advocate; and 3) patients fearful for their well-being upon discharge, be it to a rehabilitation facility or their own homes.

Surprisingly, the solution for a great patient experience rests in the fundamental tenets of patient-centered care.  These are: building trust, partnering with families, and creating personalized plans for patient care.  Here’s the strategy:

  • NAIL THE APPROACH – make it super friendly.
  • NAIL THE EXCHANGE – join forces with families to create an individualized plan for patient care and support.
  • NAIL THE FOLLOW-THRU – finish strong with a follow-thru that encourages peace of mind and leaves a positive lasting impression.

NAIL THE APPROACH

Kick-off the patient journey on a high note with an atmosphere that’s welcoming. This means over-compensating for what could be mis-interpreted as standoffish or unfriendly.

PERK UP THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT

Eliminate all things scary.  Take COVID-19 signage, for example.  Lose the threatening mandates. Instead, beckon a smile with fun images and touches of humor.  By the same token, distancing doesn’t have to be dismal.  Add cheer with a splash of unexpected color.   Or embrace minimalist décor; a hot interior design trend characterized by few furnishings, uncluttered surfaces and clean lines.  When done correctly, it’s very appealing and welcoming.

NEW WAYS TO SMILE

Lost in our “new normal” are the psychological and physiological benefits of a simple smile. These benefits cover the full gamut — from improving likeability to reducing stress and blood pressure. Here are two ways to bring a smile to an expressionless, masked environment.

  • Show Enthusiastic Approval. Supplement your conversation with verbal and physical expressions of approval.  Some examples: a whispered, but audible “yes!” with a fist pump; a quiet “yay!” with a near silent applause; or even an “alright!” with a head nod and a thumbs up.  The message these actions send are: I see you, approve of you, great job, great choice.
  • Open Hands. Using your hands as you speak helps the listener focus on who is speaking. Communicate a gentle kindness, by making a conscious effort to use “palms open” gestures to direct attention.  An open palm implies giving, and an open attitude. Touch your heart, to refer to yourself, and turn palms towards the towards listener when saying “you”.   Add a smile to your voice and you’re well on your way to a welcoming connection.

NAIL THE EXCHANGE

In patient-centered care, providers and families learn from each other on how best to care for the patient. This strategy is essential for the COVID-19 “normal.”  Providers are not at liberty to spend the extended periods of time with patients as the now absent family members were able to do – pre-pandemic.  Yet family feedback is necessary to give valuable insights on patient preferences, habits and non-verbal cues. Here’s a twofold strategy to eliminate this dilemma.

ASK AND CHART

Take a genuine interest in hearing what families have to say about desired care or the care that was given, whether it is positive or negative.  The goal for providers is to be in position to anticipate, serve and respond in a flexible, sensitive manner.  Go a step further and inquire about the patient’s interests, friendships and temperament.  Find ways to connect and encourage; keeping in mind psychological toll of the patient’s isolation.

CONNECT FREQUENTLY

Increase the frequency of contact with the families.  Mobile apps, or portal platforms are great for brief, general updates.  Use varied contact formats such as voice-to-voice or remote face-to-face contact to encourage two-way communication.

While these approaches may seem like more work, it’s actually less in the long run.  It eliminates guess-work, thus improving efficiency, outcomes, and of course the patient experience.

 

NAIL THE FOLLOW-THRU

The discharge process is the final impression of the healthcare experience.  Regardless if whether the patient is discharged to another care provider, or home; nailing the patient experience at this point is essential to overall satisfaction and loyalty.

BE CONVINCINGLY COMPETENT

Knowledgeable, accurate, concise, confident, prompt. This is a much-abbreviated list of adjectives that convey what competence looks like.   Your trustworthiness as a provider hinges on how people perceive your level of competence.  Master the fundamentals of the discharge process.  Apply best practices.  Be excellent.

FAMILIARIZE EARLY TO COMBAT FEAR AND UNCERTAINTY

While educating patients early and often is a longstanding best practice for patient discharge planning; its necessity takes on a whole new meaning in the COVID-19 pandemic environment.  Reports of rampant disease transmission, shortages of PPE, and isolation practices negatively impact the public perception of sub-acute care settings.  Even patients returning home face uncertainty about the prospect of their continuing care.   Ease this uncertainty, with greater transparency when preparing patients and their families for the transition to the next setting.  Go the extra mile to facilitate an introduction or on-boarding connection prior to the actual discharge.

WORK DIFFERENTLY

The pandemic has forced the healthcare industry to embrace technology on a grand scale and as a means to continue care remotely.  With this came the discovery that many of these technologies have proven to be more efficient than the pre-pandemic processes. Telemedicine and remote patient monitoring for example, allow for safe visits while eliminating the barriers of transportation and distance.  Patient portals, which have been underutilized since the late 90’s is spiking in adaptation by both providers and patients.

Now is a time to go beyond adaption, to totally re-thinking how best to deliver care. Take a clean slate approach. Think long and hard about the desired outcome.  First and foremost, how can health outcomes be improved?  What about the speed and accuracy in which care is delivered?  There are many opportunities here.  Plus, it lays the groundwork to scale operations for future growth.

Ultimately, for patients and their families, the patient experience is the bottom line.  For healthcare providers, the bottom line is the patient experience.  Want to learn more?  Contact us today. https://bestpatientexperiences.com/