Financial Burdens, Language Barriers and Hospital Gowns – 3 Takeaways on Improving the Patient Experience

This past week we were gratified to read three news articles highlighting different activities or issues that impact the patient experience. While none of the articles dealt specifically with medical travel, all focused on values that GHA promotes in its standards. Below we provide a brief synopsis of each article and some key takeaways for healthcare providers treating traveling patients.

In the first article titled: “The case for standardizing best practices in discussing a patient’s financial obligation,” the author advocates for standardizing processes and protocols related to provider-patient financial interactions as a way to improve the patient experience. According to the author, “The road to patient satisfaction is paved with all things that start from an accurate preauthorization, a thorough financial counseling session or estimate, a courteous front of house service through the medical care itself, all the way to getting the bill that you expect and the billing department’s previous projections holding true.” Standardizing best practices for communicating with patients is key to achieving these objectives. These recommendations are even more critical when we apply them to medical travel patients and the unique challenges they face during provider-patient financial interactions. There is the increased risk of miscommunication, misrepresentation or lack of trust stemming from distance, cultural/language differences, the variances of currencies between countries, and the frequent use of intermediaries. Healthcare providers treating medical travelers should communicate in advance to ensure patients are aware of payment options, price validity, and cancelation and refund policies.

The second article: How Cultural, Language Barriers Impact Positive Patient Experience focuses on recent research which demonstrates how culture and language barriers negatively impact the patient experience. Researches sought to identify key trends that both “build up and detract from the patient experience.” According to the article, patients indicated that language barriers “added another layer of complexity and difficulty regarding basic interaction with doctors and staff,” and “a general concern as to whether doctors and patients fully understood each other when having to work through an interpreter.” Some of the patients surveyed stated that providers who attempted to speak their language and used non-verbal clues were viewed more favorably.  While this particular research dealt specifically with local patient populations from different culture and language backgrounds, many of the same challenges apply to traveling patients.  For healthcare providers, strategies to reduce cultural and language barriers include:

  • Employing a diverse, culturally, and linguistically competent workforce.
  • Providing new staff orientation, ongoing in-service training and professional development activities for all staff.
  • Hiring on-site interpreters or using bilingual clinical and non-clinical staff.
  • Using multilingual wayfinding and signage.

While it may not always be realistic for a healthcare provider’s staff to speak all the languages of medical travelers receiving treatment, GHA encourages healthcare providers to design and support cultural appropriate services and processes that meet the identified needs of the target population groups served by the medical travel program.

The final article: Why do hospitals bare butts when there are better gowns around?” literally exposes the bare facts about hospital gowns and how they impact the patient experience. While the traditional tie-in-the-back gown is still a dominant presence in most hospitals, the trend towards patient-centric care has motivated a growing number of providers to look at gowns that provide more privacy and comfort. One such gown mentioned in the article was developed by Bridget Duffy, Cleveland Clinic’s first and former Chief Experience Officer. During her time at the Cleveland Clinic, Duffy developed a more patient-centric hospital gown which she has since refined and helped launch as a line of hospital gowns for the health apparel company Care+Wear.  According to the article:

“The gown resembles a kimono, wrapping the patient and tying in the front. At the back, the gown splits just below the patient’s buttocks, and the fabric overlaps broadly to prevent accidental exposure.”

Duffy states, “The first thing hospitals do is strip patients of their dignity…but hospitals are increasingly paying attention to patients’ experience, and that includes what they wear.” Also quoted in the article is research physician Harlan Krumholz of Yale University who states, “It’s time to truly treat patients with the respect they deserve and not put them in a dependent, submissive position — starting with a gown that can be a symbol of becoming a faceless patient rather than an individual with a name and a history and a specific need.”

Better hospital gowns are a benefit to all patients. However, hospital gowns that offer better comfort and more privacy are especially valued by patients (particularly women) whose religious and/or cultural backgrounds place a strong emphasis on modesty. Healthcare providers with traveling patient populations that fit this profile should consider how their gowns and any other practices impact patient satisfaction.

Perhaps the lesson we can take home from these three articles is this: every detail, no matter how insignificant it may appear from the provider’s perspective, impacts the patient experience in one way or another. Whether it is a staff member discussing the hospital’s financial policies with a traveling patient, an airport pick-up driver who may not be fluent in the patient’s language, or the type of gowns a hospital provides to its patients, all of these elements influence the patient experience and have a cumulative impact (good or bad) on a patient’s perception of your organization.


*Medical travel is also known as medical tourism or health tourism.