Creating Positive First Impressions for Patients

Jonathan Bees, September 21, 2017

Providers say that the most important areas at their organizations for creating positive patient experiences are in ERs, outpatient services, and during discharge.

The top three areas in which a positive patient experience is most important for their organizations are discharge and follow-up (51%), the emergency department (50%), and outpatient/ ambulatory visits (45%), according to respondents in the 2017 HealthLeaders Media Patient Experience Survey. A positive patient experience at discharge and follow-up is beneficial because it can help reduce hospital readmissions, and it is also a critical part of managing care across the continuum.

Likewise, a positive first impression in the ED may encourage patients to use other hospital services in the future, and a positive experience in an outpatient/ambulatory visit also helps promote the potential use of a provider’s inpatient capabilities.

“If you don’t create a great first impression, it’s much harder to achieve a positive lasting experience,” says Sven Gierlinger, vice president and chief experience officer at Northwell Health, an integrated health system serving the greater New York area that includes 22 hospitals, 6,675 hospital and long-term care beds, and more than 550 outpatient facilities.

“If you have a bad experience, it can play out in a variety of ways. I think that visually, what you see when you first walk in a space is extremely important. And when that first human contact or interaction is warm and inviting, with a smile—it makes you feel comforted and safe, and that’s ultimately what we all want from any healthcare experience,” says Gierlinger.

He also notes that when going over survey ratings and doing patient interviews, he’s not necessarily interested in only reviewing the low scores. He says it can be illuminating to look beyond the scores to understand the patient’s perception of his or her care, and cites an emergency department example, an area where Northwell Health has applied process improvement methods extensively.

“I want to figure out what’s the difference between good and great, what’s the difference between 'probably recommend' and 'likely to recommend,' because our leaders who are rounding mostly find satisfied patients with no issues, but you don’t really know if they gave you a 'probably' or 'definitely recommend.'

“A good example of this is when we identified that how we insert the IV in the emergency department is actually painful, which posed an issue. Many patients actually told us that this intervention was extremely stressful and painful, and our clinicians were not as compassionate as they would have hoped. When looking at our inpatient survey, I believe this had a significant impact on our pain management scores. Asking our patients about pain actually triggered a response to the pain they received from the IV in the emergency department. To really move the dial on performance improvement, we must be mindful of the whole experience through the lens of our patients."

Jonathan Bees

Jonathan Bees is the senior research analyst at HealthLeaders Media.

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