Recently The Beryl Institute published findings on the patient experience using data obtained in a survey of 2,000 healthcare consumers in five countries. Their report, Consumer Perspectives on Patient Experience 2018, delves deeply into the importance of the patient experience and why it matters to consumers and why it should matter to healthcare providers who are seeking to provide a truly patient-centric environment of care.
This article will focus mainly on one section of the report, however, we highly recommend that you read the entire report which can be found here. In a section of the report titled “Defining Patient Experience – What is important to you?” components of the patient experienced were ranked in order of importance by survey respondents as shown in figure 1.
Medical travel best practices
While this data was not obtained in the context of medical travel, many of the findings are also relevant to medical travelers, with the understanding that processes, protocols and services may need to be adapted to ensure they meet the unique needs of the medical travel patient. Let’s take a look at a few examples using some selected results from the chart:
The top two components of the patient experience ranked in this survey are “Listen to you” and “communicate clearly in a way you can understand.” Patients want to be heard and also clearly understand what is being communicated to them. Achieving this can be a challenge for healthcare providers in any context, but is especially daunting when one is communicating with a patient from a different culture and language background who may be 3,000 miles away. How do healthcare providers ensure good communication in these circumstances? Some examples of best practices advocated by GHA’s standards include:
- Employing a diverse, culturally, and linguistically competent clinical and non-clinical workforce.
- Providing cultural competency training as a component of a comprehensive education and training program for all staff.
- Translating documentation and educational materials into the languages of traveling patient populations, e.g. consent forms, patient bill of rights, treatment plan etc…
- Taking the time to schedule video conference calls with potential medical travelers to answer their questions and listen to their concerns.
At number 4 is “Give you confidence in their abilities.” Patients will not choose your organization unless you earn their trust. This is especially true if patients are not familiar with your organization or the country or region where you are located. How can healthcare providers engender trust? It is earned through multiple interactions with staff and systems. Some examples of best practices advocated by GHA’s standards include:
- Having a website and social media channels that educate and inform: doctor profiles, information about medical treatments available, innovative technology, and testimonials.
- Ensuring that your call center or international department provides quick responses with relevant information.
- Having knowledgeable medical professionals that are transparent about the risks and benefits of a procedure or treatment, who listen to the patient and are respectful of their views regarding their health, even if these may stem from a different cultural or religious tradition.
“Provide a clear plan of care and why they are doing it” was ranked number seven. Some examples of best practices advocated by GHA’s standards include:
- Working with appropriate staff to select and implement evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for the primary medical procedures and clinical services provided to medical travel patients.
- Providing a detailed travel itinerary and care plan prior to patient travel in a language understood by the patient.
- Educating prospective patients about the recommended total length of stay for the planned medical, dental or other procedures or treatments.
Number 10, “A discharge/checkout process in which your treatment plan and/or next steps in care are clearly explained” is of vital importance for traveling patients who may be transitioning to a new care setting perhaps in a hotel or back to their home country. Some examples of best practices advocated by GHA’s standards include:
- At discharge, instructions are provided to the patient in their language of choice including what continuing or new medications to take and when any medications related to their care can be discontinued.
- The care provided to the medical travel patient is documented in the patient’s medical record and provided to the patient at discharge.
- Patients are educated about any increased risk of combining travel with surgical procedures or other treatments or diagnostic procedures, including suggestions on the mitigation of those risks.
These are just a few examples of how healthcare providers may need to adapt certain activities or processes to meet the expectations of medical travelers regarding these very important components of the patient experience.
Soft skills matter
You may have also noticed that most of the top 10 components of the patient experience correspond to so-called “soft skills” such as empathy, communication skills, and listening. This is no coincidence. While according to the report, respondents highlighted their health and wellbeing as being the most important part of the patient experience, respondents also emphasized that “healthcare is not only about the personal clinical encounters, but also grounded in the human interactions provided during those encounters.” This is clearly reflected in the chart above (Figure 1) and has implications for hiring practices and the training and orientation hospitals and clinics provide to their staff. Understanding is the first step towards empathy. Are you hiring staff with diverse cultural and language backgrounds? Are staff being educated about the unique needs and expectations of different traveling patient populations?
Patient expectations are changing
As technology advances in other areas, patients are increasingly expecting the same of health care. If they can book a flight from their mobile device, why not a doctor’s appointment? New technologies such as telehealth, wearables and mobile apps are breaking down barriers and offering quick or even immediate access to healthcare services while changing expectations about the care experience. We will end this article with a thought-provoking statement from the authors of the report and one that all healthcare providers – regardless of who your patient populations are – should take to heart. Referring to the patient experience:
“This is not just about being satisfied, but rather consumers of care, and as exemplified by people across many consumer-focused settings, have a raised level of expectations. They are looking for an experience that treats them in certain ways and acknowledges who they are as people in the process. While it is often suggested that healthcare is not the hospitality business or primarily a retail environment, those leading healthcare would be naïve to think they are not being compared to those other experiences people are having. When then considering experience in a setting that is as personal and as significant as healthcare, one can only believe this level of expectation is amplified.”
 Wolf, Jason., Consumer Perspectives on Patient Experience 2018. The Beryl Institute. https://www.theberylinstitute.org/page/PXCONSUMERSTUDY
*Medical travel is also commonly known as medical tourism or health tourism.