Striking the Balance: Patient Experience and Productivity

By Sachin Shah, MD, MBA, FAAEM

The words “patient experience” are often met with an eye-roll or sigh from physicians. It makes sense; of course, no physician, advanced practice provider (APP) or nurse wants to provide a poor experience. In an ideal world, I would spend as much time with my patients as their situations warrant. As an emergency department physician, being at the bedside and taking care of patients is what fuels my passion. The challenge is the double mandate facing physicians today – to keep costs down and be productive, but also do whatever we can to provide an exceptional patient experience to engender positive survey scores. Those things can feel conflicting or counterintuitive, but it is possible to strike a balance.

Below are four tactics clinicians can utilize to not only improve patient experience but also enhance efficiencies in their work.

1. Focus on Quality Over Quantity
Maximize interactions with patients, no matter how short. Consider what you would want to hear if you were in their shoes. Using the AIDET® communication framework is a great way to communicate effectively in a short period of time. If we practice AIDET® consistently, we actually save time because we proactively communicate with patients and family members rather than being called back in later to answer additional questions.

2. Take a Seat
It seems so simple, but studies show patients feel like their physician spent more time with them if their provider sat down during the visit. Sitting down doesn’t take more time out of our schedules and can have a positive influence on the patient’s overall perception of care. It’s a great change to briefly rest your feet as well.

3. Follow-up
It’s critical that we make sure we’re following up on test results and getting the patient quickly and efficiently to either discharge or admissions. Following up shows we respect patients’ time and helps to keep the emergency department (ED) flowing. Better flow makes for more productive EDs.

4. Take Ownership
If you see a broken system – say something. The happiest departments are those that are most efficient because they don’t spend time tracking down lab work, CAT scan results or other patient information. When processes flow well, those departments are rewarding places to work that can recruit and retain top talent.

As physicians, we sometimes feel like we are between a rock and a hard place in healthcare today. We are expected to be efficient and make money, but also provide a positive experience for patients and families. In the end, it’s all about striking that delicate balance between those two obligations, keeping in mind that you must focus on margin to achieve your mission.

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