Patient Experience Week (PX Week), happens annually in April, and is a time to honor and celebrate healthcare staff that impact the patient experience daily. Good or bad, the patient experience has changed drastically over the past year. Healthcare organizations had to change the way they ‘saw’ and cared for patients. Technology became more important than ever. And some specialties and services that were previously deemed optional became necessary and in high demand.

While patient engagement has been a top strategy over the past few decades, patient experience is now top of mind for most healthcare organizations and their leaders. Patients continue to have more choice in where and how they receive care. In fact, in a survey of more than 1,900 hospitals across all 50 states, 73 percent of respondents rated the patient experience as a “10” priority on a 10-point scale.

With patients demanding a better experience, an increase in technology adoption, and more ‘non-traditional’ care options available, patients arguably have more control than ever.

3 Areas That Make an Impact

As we continue the effort to return to ‘normal’ there are some areas of healthcare that had to quickly adapt, and will continue to evolve. Some of these areas are telehealth, palliative care, and advance care planning.

Telehealth

It’s no surprise to anyone that telehealth adoption increased drastically in 2020. When comparing just the first 3 months of 2020 to 2019, telehealth visits increased by 50%. When looking later in the year, when COVID was rampant across the entire U.S., in October 2020 alone, telehealth usage increased 3,060% in comparison to October 2019.

Luckily, reimbursement of telehealth changed, for the better. With the 1135 waiver, Medicare now covers more telehealth visits to a larger geographic area, not just designated rural areas.

Demand for telehealth is expected to continue in 2021 and beyond. In an ongoing SPH Analytics telehealth survey, 70% of patients preferred virtual visits over in-person visits to save time. This was the most cited reason for preferring telehealth visits. Interestingly enough, avoiding those who were sick came in behind the convenience factor.

While some of the most common barriers to telehealth may be technology and reliable internet, some of that has been eliminated by allowing audio only consults.

Telehealth does remove other historic barriers, including an insufficient number of providers (namely specialists) in particular regions and lack of transportation. It also allows those who may have had to wait months for a consult to access more timely, and potentially higher-quality care.

Palliative Care

While there is still some confusion as to what exactly palliative care is, it has shown to improve the patient experience and cut hospital costs. Patients with serious illness account for most of the healthcare utilization, and often receive low quality care, resulting in many in-hospital deaths. This leads to a poor patient and family experience.

With timely palliative care, patients benefit from symptom relief provided by a multi-disciplinary team. This team also focuses on advance care planning. This helps ensure that future treatments align with patient wishes.

Studies have shown that dying at home leads to a better end-of-life experience, as they are surrounded by a familiar setting versus a sterile, uncomfortable hospital environment. Services such as palliative care and hospice enable patients to do so. An interdisciplinary team that consists of physicians, nurses, social workers, and chaplains can address all needs of the patient and their family.

While still limited, but continuously increasing, palliative care can be provided via telehealth. Although after 2020 there will likely be updated studies on this, past studies have found that virtual palliative care improves access to these services, and enhances the feeling of safety and security.

Advance Care Planning

Advance care planning truly provides a patient-centered focus by coupling a patients’ personal preference with their treatment plan. Having initial and ongoing conversations, and documenting these preferences increases the likelihood that these preferences will be honored at the end of life.

Various studies have shown that advance care planning results in a better patient experience and satisfaction. Some ways to incorporate and encourage advance care planning include:

  • Patient self-directed advance care planning
  • Videos
  • Web-based tools
  • Conversations with clinicians and loved ones

Leveraging existing tools and technology to engage the patient in advance care planning is crucial for a better experience.

It’s also important to focus on advance care planning sooner rather than later. An earlier focus on advance care planning has shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, resulting in a better quality of life. And this can be tied back to an improved experience, as this provides whole-person centered care.

Patient Experience Must Be a Top Priority

While this is a dedicated PX Week, it must be a priority the other 51 weeks of the year. Patients continue to express that this is extremely important to them. And with more options available, patients have choice, and can easily seek care elsewhere.

New and innovative players continue to enter healthcare, and take a patient-centric approach. In order to keep up, traditional care providers must be nimble, and seek out partners to be able to offer this experience the deserve and demand.

About the Author

Vynca

Vynca, based in Palo Alto, Calif., provides comprehensive advance care planning technology solutions that enable health care organizations to deliver high-quality end-of-life care consistent with an individual’s preferences.

The company helps patients, families and health care providers have meaningful conversations about future care preferences, ensure that wishes are documented accurately and provides real-time access to this critical information throughout the care continuum.