Understanding Patient Expectations and How to Handle Them

All med students know the most important part of their future careers – the factor that they care about most – is patient care and satisfaction. If a patient isn’t satisfied, trouble can ensue. Sickly patients can lead to longer bed stays, and unsatisfied patients can lead to lawsuits and a harmed reputation. That’s why physicians and providers know exactly how much patient satisfaction and patient expectations matter. However, earning this satisfaction isn’t easy. Sometimes, patients have unrealistic expectations that can be hard to manage. So what can med students do to ensure satisfaction? Consider these tips on how to understand – and more importantly, manage – patient expectations.

Understanding patient expectations

Patient satisfaction didn’t always carry as much weight as it does now. In fact, physicians and providers weren’t even focused on patient expectations until the 1980’s. Prior to that, doctors simply assumed that their performance was outstanding and that all patients admitted to a hospital were satisfied once they left, according to the publication An Epidemic of Empathy in Healthcare. Once medicine truly advanced and technology started to integrate into the industry, people began to wonder whether the experience was as good as they believed. When patient experience began to be measured, physicians experienced quite a wake-up call. Through research, doctors began to realize the importance of patient safety in all realms of health care.

“Physicians and providers weren’t even focused on patient contentment until the 1980’s.”

With the continual rise of technology in medicine, patient expectations are constantly changing. Today, patients can monitor their own health through wearable technology like the iWatch. They can attempt to diagnose themselves by checking out symptom-checker websites like WebMD. They can enter through an EHR’s patient portal to look through their own medical records. In the past, patients didn’t have nearly as much control, or knowledge, about their own health. While this can be a great advantage, it can also be a disadvantage for doctors, especially as patients may question a diagnosis now where they wouldn’t have in the past. This distrust is one of the larger issues that physicians face today.

Yet the growing integration of technology in medicine has benefited doctors as well, meaning they just need to adjust to the changing times. At the end of the day, whether a patient questions a diagnosis or refuses a surgery, he or she needs to walk out safe and satisfied. So how can physicians deal with these changing challenges?

By expecting them. A prepared physician, provider or administrator is a wise one. Most of the time, patients have similar expectations. So if health staff expects this feedback and commentary, relationships between patients and personnel will be a lot stronger. As a physician, provider or administrator, it’s important to know the most common expectations patients might have. Here are the top five most common patient expectations and how to handle them:

1. Doctors should be reachable at all times. Thanks to the development of telehealth and EHRs, doctors can definitely be much more accessible than they have been in the past. However, the accessibility of doctors has decreased a lot from the days when they made house calls. These days, doctors go on vacations and they have message machines to handle their patients after hours, which only aggravates patients. Yet constantly answering the patient phone calls isn’t feasible either. Physicians Practice recommended that doctors try texting as a compromise. Texting is seen as an immediate, concise response from a trusted source. Meanwhile, physicians don’t have to deal with hour-long phone calls. Giving patients a personal phone and hours to text may help manage those accessibility expectations.

2. Patient care should be personalized. These days, physicians and patients know a lot more about medicine than they used to. Doctors can take a much more comprehensive approach to patients thanks to a better understanding of patients’ medical records, family history, and medication usage, allowing for better patient care. So when a patient walks into a medical office or hospital, they expect their care to be completely customized to them. But what happens if their normal physician isn’t around and they have to deal with someone else? This can be annoying to most patients. Luckily, EHRs and other technologies are working around this problem by allowing every doctor to know every patient before they walk through the door.

3. Patients should know what’s going on at all times. Patients like to know absolutely everything their doctor is doing, thinking, and writing. While physicians can’t be completely transparent, communication is critical to patient satisfaction. As a doctor, it’s important to keep patients in the loop as much as they can. Integrating email, phone calls, and texting into educating and informing patients as much as physicians can will help reduce the chance of dealing with an aggravated patient or family member who feels like he or she has been kept in the dark. Keeping lines of communication open will build trust and make patients feel comfortable.

4. Doctors should offer care coordination. Patients get frustrated quickly when their specialists, primary care doctors, and hospital staff are not all on the same page. With doctor’s accessibility to technology, patients expect that all medical staff they interact with should coordinate with each other. As an administrator or provider, it’s critical to integrate care coordination into patients’ health care plan. This coordination can keep patients safer and lower medical costs.

5. Patients shouldn’t wait to access care. Waiting to see a doctor or a specialist, spending hours in a waiting room, or booking an appointment for a month later can truly upset a patient. Whether their condition is serious or mild, people want to know they have access to care. Administrators and providers can lower wait times by hiring more staff or having patients be seen by a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner instead of a physician. Having an accurate referral system can also prevent this issue.

Download this white paper, Measuring What Matters to Patients, to find out how you can improve patient outcomes and exceed patient expectations.

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