The 3 Main Steps to Great Patient Experience: Outreach, Engagement, and Satisfaction

February 2, 2021 Editor

Sometimes when seeking the optimum healthcare experience for your patients and members, it may feel like, “You can’t get there from here.” But there are three parallel goals that are – and will always be – key stopovers on the road to achieving the best patient experience possible: outreach, engagement, and satisfaction. As such, it is worth assessing the steps to take, and correlations among the three goals, to determine a practical path to improving all three and hitting the bars of your patient and member experience programs.

After assessing outcomes and cost – two areas you’ve undoubtedly spent much attention on – the next value barometer squarely rests with the patient or health plan member. Reaching them post visit, keeping them interested and active in their own health, and then ultimately happy with their whole care experience can never be emphasized enough.

Doing that and being able to replicate the satisfaction levels in the form of CAHPS surveys is necessary for a healthier patient roster, meeting regulatory requirements, and increased reimbursement, even in today’s current COVID environment.  

The good news is that most providers are already on board with the importance of measuring the patient experience. More than 80% of all providers responding to a Modern Healthcare Customer Media study say that patient engagement is already a priority, and indeed say that patient satisfaction as measured by CAHPS surveys is only one (albeit important) aspect of their organizations’ patient engagement strategy.

But here’s the rub: only 20% of providers are satisfied with their present patient engagement efforts. Sixty-nine per cent said their patient outcomes could actually be improved if they partnered up with a better engagement technology.

1 First Step: Outreach

The provider-to-patient connection is a critical one. One provider can easily see over 2,000 patients throughout a year, but needs to access additional resources to maintain that connection beyond the appointment.

Most practices utilize patient portals allowing for an open communication channel between provider and patient. Portals also give patients access to their own health data, which can be a plus as it keeps them informed so they can help contribute to their own care. Many health systems utilize portals, too, with some promising results.

The downside of this innovation, mostly on the provider front, is that physicians utilize portals far more often than patients do. Though certainly not just a one-way communication tool, patient portals have yet to fulfill their promise. As their functionality improves, greater bi-directional communication and usage is expected in the coming decade.

Omnichannel outreach

Patient portals remain the industry standard of ‘outreach’ at the moment, but the outreach effort shouldn’t – and doesn’t – stop there. With SPH’s patient experience solutions, patient/member outreach can be personalized and optimized through a number of different communication channels.

These channels cover different tools that people are already using, especially when their health is concerned, like texts, emails, and phone conversations. Since 81% of Americans are online daily – and one in three are there ALL the time – successful outreach is seldom further away than the device already in the patient’s hand.

For formal surveys and lengthier messaging, emails and the U.S. mail provide a good option, and in some cases meet a regulatory requirement, to connect with patients. Surveys using mail and email generated by non-healthcare companies usually expect a 5-10% return – while we at SPH have had consistently strong returns, utilizing best practices, that net results like our recent Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plan CAHPS survey response rates which are at an industry high of 40%*.

Perhaps the golden age of outreach might very well be upon us now with the advent of the COVID-19 virus becoming a dominant thread in the fabric of American life. Reaching out to a now sizeable and vulnerable population has quickly become the order of the day for health plans and especially providers to relay critical information – both preventive and reactive – that can make a genuine difference. That’s even more important now as this year has shown to be a period where patient data collection is more a back burner issue than in years past.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) has proven to be a strong and practical outreach method during this sensitive time. Here, a pre-recorded message allows for voice response for specific situations, keypad signal logic, access to pertinent patient data, and even handing off the call to a trained pro who can view the data and suggest the all-important next step.

2 Second Step: Engagement

Engagement is one area where healthcare appears to have an advantage over other industries. The desired “product” – a healthy patient – is also the key stakeholder. Being/getting healthy is a pretty good prize for active engagement, creating a “win-win-win” for  patients, providers, and payers. That said, outside factors can play a strong role in the “engageability” of certain patients/members.

Social determinants like income, employment, family pressures, housing, geographic location, and education can all play a factor in how invested someone is with his/her health. Simply getting through the day might win out over addressing one’s well-being.

And there’s fatigue. Email fatigue. Phone fatigue. How can critical health information be relayed and exchanged when the message is competing with an inbox full of them?

All are genuine roadblocks in keeping the patient from getting connected and being health-aware. To circumvent these hazards, it takes a committed team to not just keep the patient message fresh and new, but also inviting, informative, and genuinely helpful.

Timely and targeted engagement

Knowing the more desirable times of day/week and methods for incoming messaging – plus a compelling on-target health message – that is likely to generate an interested response back is a vital part to any successful patient engagement effort. Call it “smart patient engagement.”

The “compelling” part revolves around how relevant each online/on-phone connection is by addressing the patient’s unique situation, including specific conditions and upcoming preventive events like mammograms, colorectal screenings, diabetes care, heart disease, and flu or COVID vaccines. And good engagement doesn’t stop there! There’s education, encouragement, and assistance – all offered to provide a genuine benefit to the patient/member, thus engaging them for their own good.

SPH’s Smart Member Engagement solution can help you focus on your target members by deploying SPH Forensics™. SPH Forensics is a proprietary set of algorithms to understand member experience, engageability, and behavioral pattern insights based on our 35+ years of member behavior data and robust expertise with data modeling and predictive analytics.

Our proprietary data models predict which members are more or less likely to have various outcomes. Our member attribute modeling determines how to best message them to improve patient/member health and strengthen loyalty.  In this solution, SPH focuses on four key outcome goals that have a strong correlation to revenue, Star Ratings, and member retention:

  • Optimized member retention and enrollment
  • Improved patient/member experience
  • Increase closure of care gaps
  • Improved medication adherence


3 Third Step: Satisfaction

Although Mick Jagger claims he “can’t get no” satisfaction (let’s not use Mick as a benchmark), patients who are satisfied with their specific healthcare experience, however, are more inclined to stick to their prescribed medication regimens and more likely to stay with their physician long-term. And the greater the patient satisfaction, the more patients there are and the more money they generate.

Topping the list of most effective satisfaction/engagement generators, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, are: 1) physicians, nurses, or other clinicians spending more time with patients and 2) sharing decision-making.

One thing for sure, if it’s “better outcomes” you’re looking for, you need satisfied patients.

“Keep the Customer Satisfied”

Referencing another ‘60s hit (thank you, Simon & Garfunkel), the satisfied “customer” is one powerful confirmation of quality healthcare. Knowing you’ve got satisfied patients is a good thing, but measuring it is even better.

“Satisfied” is a subjective state typically tough to pin down and measure. However, it can indeed be translated into meaningful, quantifiable, and actionable data through the implementation of patient experience surveys.

SPH has been doing just that for both payer and provider organizations for 35+ years now with their management and administration of the CAHPS family of surveys, which include CG CAHPS and assorted Health Plan Surveys, including Medicare CAHPS.  The surveys, established to standardize tools and protocols that measure consumer or patient satisfaction, are the national standard that report on the consumer’s experience in the healthcare process.

And once your survey scores measure your member/patient experience, SPH’s subsequent reporting and analytics will give you insights to demonstrate what is working and the areas that need more attention, helping keep both today’s and tomorrow’s customers satisfied.

“Are You Experienced?”

One final ‘60s classic asks the musical question “Are you experienced?” At SPH, we can answer that with a not-as-musical but an unequivocal “yes!”

With so many clients and years of unmatched experience, SPH has amassed the largest book of benchmarks in the U.S. member experience world – we call it Experience Explorer. Seventy percent of all health plans already partner with SPH, so our database provides a remarkable comparison to leverage when analyzing your member experience data.

And the advanced reporting and analytics that’s generated will give your organization a leg up in driving performance improvement and engagement initiatives – even in this demanding time of the pandemic. More than 70% of U.S. health plans are measuring and improving their customer experience by partnering with SPH – as are 40,000+ providers.

Through careful measurement, analysis, and engagement, improved patient or member experience can indeed be a very reachable goal in 2021.

Ready to start engaging your patients or members? Learn more about Smart Member Engagement here.

* Source: 2017-2018 SPH Book of Business Response Rates


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