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Reducing administrative friction to improve patient experiences

At Springfield Clinic in Illinois, a combination of technology tools and person-centered strategies are improving patient experiences.
By admin
Apr 4, 2024, 3:27 PM

A positive patient experience is at the core of high-quality healthcare delivery, yet too many healthcare organizations still struggle to make patients feel welcomed, valued, and empowered during their interactions with clinicians and administrative staff.  

“Healthcare still retains a very traditional, outdated mindset about patient experiences,” said Zach Kerker, Chief Brand and Advocacy Officer at Springfield Clinic, a multispecialty group with approximately 90 different provider types serving around one million patients in Central Illinois. “You go into an office, and you fill out your paperwork and get asked a bunch of questions…then you go into another office in the same health system, and you fill out the same paperwork again and get asked the same questions again. It’s incredibly frustrating and off-putting for the patient.” 

“That’s not acceptable when you’re at your most vulnerable. You may be sick or injured or scared, or just feel lost and overwhelmed by the unfamiliar. You need nurturing. You need someone to make you feel like you’re going to be taken care of, and very few of the current healthcare experiences do that particularly well.” 

Instead, health systems still strike up dissonance between their modernized messaging about putting the patient first and the stark reality that many patients do not feel comfortable or supported during their healthcare journey. 

“That mismatch is how mistrust can propagate throughout the experience if we’re not careful,” Kerker cautioned. “Trust is the most important asset we have, and we can’t afford to lose it with poorly executed processes that leave patients feeling frustrated, lost, or even angry.” 

Creating a welcoming atmosphere free of administrative headaches can be especially difficult in a large multispecialty setting, which Kerker described as “a group of independent federations under the same flag” when he entered his role.  

“A big part of changing the culture of the patient experience is convincing each group that we are more powerful together than we are as individuals, and that we can grow exponentially if we put some uniform practices and technologies into place that keep patients at the center of the experience,” he explained. 

Leveraging technology to eliminate administrative pain points

To best serve patients in the largely rural communities of Central Illinois, Springfield Clinic has embarked on a comprehensive patient experience improvement process, which focused first on removing administrative friction points. 

“Technology is crucial for helping us with becoming more seamless and boosting the communication between groups so that the experience is coordinated and informed no matter which office the patient is walking into,” said Kerker. 

“We partnered with Health Note to implement a platform to digitize patient-facing documents and administrative tasks, so now patients can complete the majority of those routine requirements online at their convenience. They get a text message or an email asking them to complete the form at their convenience before they come in. And they only have to do it once for all of our specialty offices, so by the time they get to the door, the entire experience is solely focused on taking care of them.” 

Patients can also make online payments and participate in online self-scheduling, a feature that nearly half of patients actively look for in when searching for a provider, according to a 2021 Harris Poll survey. 

“No one wants to call up, wait on hold, and then sit on the phone with someone trying to match up calendar openings on the spot like that,” said Kerker. “They want to see the schedule, have the time and space to figure out what works best for them, and click on a button to complete the process. There’s no reason healthcare can’t adopt these same practices that have been standard in so many other industries for a long time.” 

Making room for the human touch

With administrative pain points out of the way, providers and patients have more space for building relationships that are genuine, respectful, and personalized, said Kerker.  

“We all appreciate the little things that make us feel seen and valued,” he said. “If there’s a patient who’s been sitting in an exam room for 20 minutes, why not pop your head in and say, ‘Hey John, we’re running a little behind, but we haven’t forgotten about you, and I promise we’ll be with you as soon as possible’?” 

“It reaffirms the dignity of the patient – and it’s very often the difference between a one-star rating and a five-star rating on our surveys. We don’t view our patients as part of a cattle call, and they can feel that from us across all of our care sites because we’ve made it a standardized practice to connect with them in these small but important ways.” 

As a result, Springfield Clinic has seen a major jump in their patient experience metrics, from the mid-sixties to the 91st national percentile.  

“Our patients love the preregistration options; they love how easy it is to get scheduled,” Kerker noted. “They appreciate how they are treated from start to finish. It’s a true testament to the efforts of our staff and leadership that we are consistently meeting and exceeding expectations.” 

Lessons learned from a comprehensive patient experience overhaul

Whether implementing a new technology, adjusting a workflow, or making a cultural shift, starting small but thinking big is the key to success, said Kerker.  

“Start with a pilot and show proof of concept, but make sure to think about how that pilot could expand to the entire organization if it’s successful,” he advised. 

“It’s also important to know what metrics and outcomes are motivating for the people involved. Some will be most interested in how a change will affect their daily routine, while others might be more focused on creating new revenue opportunities or improving quality scores. Having a champion that can speak to each of these issues in a language that their colleagues will respond to is key for communicating the value and generating sustained buy-in.” 

“The most impactful patient experience gains will occur at the intersection of technology, people, and process,” he concluded. “Finding those inflection points and figuring out how to reduce aggravation, increase trust, and bolster efficiency will make patients feel valued, cared for, and respected.”  

Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry.  Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system.  She can be reached at jennifer@inklesscreative.com.

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