Improving patient experience to tackle "The Great Resignation"

Staffing shortages and patients’ expectations for high-touch care go hand-in-hand in today’s unconventional market.

“Please be kind. We are short-staffed.”

Posting a sign like that would have been unthinkable in practices before 2020. Sadly, they’re all too familiar these days. Such pleas speak volumes about the current workforce trend dubbed “The Great Resignation,” but they also signal a significant escalation in patients’ expectations over recent months. As practices try to find long-term solutions to their staffing challenges, these signs suggest that they may want to focus as much on patient engagement as recruiting.

In the early days of the pandemic, most patients accepted some sacrifices to their personal convenience. They knew practices were scrambling to find new ways to deliver care, and they appreciated the efforts providers were taking to keep them safe. Now, after years of pandemic experience, the grace period is over. Frustration is mounting.

People have watched other industries rapidly accelerate consumer-friendly, on-demand services. Too many patients are asking, “why not healthcare?” In many places, overburdened healthcare staff feel as unhappy as their patients when they can’t offer the consumer-oriented experience that their patients want. As a result, healthcare workers are leaving the industry while patients are shifting their loyalties to those organizations that create a differentiated, digital, personalized experience.

The upshot is this: staffing shortages and patients’ expectations for high-touch care go hand-in-hand in today’s unconventional market. Attractive salary and benefits packages may be one way to attract and retain staff. Yet, a more sustainable way to minimize The Great Resignation—and gain greater patient loyalty in the process—is to improve the patient experience.

Entwined experiences

Some practices will retain more staff members and patients than others in the coming months. To become one of those organizations, a practice must start by putting processes in place to help staff keep their heads above water, to make them feel valued, and to set them up for success. Staff satisfaction thus forms a solid foundation for patient satisfaction.

It’s natural to want to work somewhere where you can succeed. For healthcare staff, that means being able to help their patients get the best care experience possible, while working in a positive, collaborative environment. So, one question all practices should ask is: What can we do to make patients feel comfortable, encourage them to come in, and take control of their health?

One answer is to adopt digital technologies to communicate with and empower patients to take greater ownership of healthcare-related activities. With millions of patients actively searching right now for a superior healthcare experience, there is no better time to make practices’ processes as digital and on-demand as they are in other industries.

Managing patient relationships through digital technology reduces many of the logistical complexities that dissatisfy patients and staff alike. Giving patients the ability to schedule appointments and pay bills online, for example, offers them the 24/7 convenience they expect while freeing staff from the tediousness of mundane tasks. The same can be said about communicating through two-way HIPAA-compliant text messages instead of playing rounds of “phone tag,” or offering digital intake forms instead of clipboards stacked with frustrating paperwork.

In addition to enhancing staff workflows and patient experiences, practices also gain valuable insights from data that results from digital technologies. Data analysis can help practices understand why people join their organization, why people stay, why they thrive, and why they leave. With such awareness, practices can be proactive about creating an exceptional workforce and an excellent patient experience.

The right time

Adopting low-cost ways to improve the patient experience, decrease operational expense, increase efficiency, and augment staff value will always be the right thing to do. But bolstering the patient experience is especially important as The Great Resignation continues to deepen the bonds between patient satisfaction and staff retention.

Patient satisfaction engenders staff satisfaction and vice versa, creating a virtuous cycle, driving practices, their staff and their patients forward. The practices that empower the patient experience through digital technology are best positioned to satisfy and engage their staff as well.

I admit, there is no “good time” to re-examine processes and entirely rethink the patient experience. The timing is not ideal during COVID surges that tax healthcare resources to their limits.

I challenge the premise that practices don’t need to focus on the patient experience if their non-COVID patient volumes are low. Those volumes will rebound, especially when adding virtual visits to the in-person mix. Today’s inflationary financial environment only amplifies the imperative for practices to try to control costs while fighting for talent and staff.

Now is the time to invest in crucial, practice-building initiatives like the patient experience. Giving patients the on-demand, digital healthcare experience they crave offers practices their best opportunity to drive sustainable patient engagement and turn The Great Resignation into a problem of the past.

This article was originally published by sister publication Medical Economics.