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Improving patient trust: Why patient experience metrics aren’t enough

Improving patient trust: Why patient experience metrics aren’t enough

Priya Gill is senior director, product marketing at Momentive, a leader in agile experience management

Trust is at the cornerstone of every successful patient-provider relationship. While it often takes multiple interactions to win a patient’s trust, it can be very quickly lost. Any number of experiences—from an interaction with a receptionist to a conversation with a physician following a procedure—can affect how a patient perceives your healthcare organization.

“If a patient is treated poorly by a registrar, or if a patient has to go from room to room during check-in for the convenience of staff, this sends a message that the system does not have their best interest in mind,” explained David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president, Health Care Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies U.S. healthcare organizations to inspire them to excel in providing safe and effective care. “Patients need to believe the organization puts their best interests first.”

For healthcare organizations, knowing when, where, and how trust is built and broken is crucial. Although patient experience metrics are a standard part of provider feedback surveys, measuring trust is more elusive. While 53% of the 338 healthcare industry professionals we surveyed¹ reported using HCAHPS or CAHPS surveys to capture patient feedback, nearly 1 in 10 said they aren’t sure what factors cause patients to lose trust in their organization.

According to Lewis Mattison, managing director and founder at healthcare consultancy Mattison Advisory, many standard healthcare surveys simply aren’t built for this purpose. With an emphasis on metrics like customer service and wait times, he notes that standard provider surveys focus on small points in the experience and “fail to properly assess whether or not the patient’s need was fulfilled”—a factor that’s arguably the most critical component of trust.

“If a patient doesn't trust you, they won’t come back, and if a patient feels like they were not heard or not understood or that their needs were not fulfilled, they may seek answers elsewhere,” he said.

For patients, losing trust in a provider can have far-reaching effects. Not only does it color that patient’s experience or lead to a disruption in care as they work to find another provider, but in some cases, it can even impact their overall health outcome.

“Trust on both sides of the patient-provider relationship is critical,” explained Caitlin Donovan, spokesperson for National Patient Advocate Foundation. “When there’s a lack of trust between a patient and their provider, outcomes will almost assuredly be worse. If you’re not trusting what your doctor is telling you, even if what they are telling you is clinically perfect, you might not follow their advice and your condition could worsen.”

The impact can also be significant for healthcare organizations. As consumers increasingly rely on physician review sites like Zocdoc, Yelp, and Healthgrades to share their experiences, loss of patient trust can have widespread effects on your brand. In fact, of the 323 healthcare industry professionals we surveyed on the matter, 91% said physician review sites are important to their organization's reputation, and 36% claim they’re often the biggest influence on a patient’s perception of their organization.

According to Mattison, loss of patient trust extends even further. “If you lose a patient’s trust, you may lose the patient, and frankly, it’s more than money. For physicians and other caregivers who truly care about their patients, those relationships mean a lot to them,” he said.

As value-based care becomes increasingly common, patient trust will become more important than ever. “Healthcare organizations need to strive to provide patient-centered care in a patient-centered delivery system,” said Dr. Baker. “There is a clear return on investment for organizations to work to gain trust.”

For healthcare organizations, it’s a crucial time to invest in building, maintaining, and understanding patient trust at every touchpoint. We’ve broken this process down into 3 steps designed to help you reinvigorate patient trust in your organization.

To improve patient trust in your organization, you must first gain a deeper understanding of the factors affecting it. For most organizations, this starts by going beyond basic feedback questions about each encounter and focusing on whether the patient’s need was fulfilled.

In Mattison’s experience, this can often be boiled down to one key factor: whether the doctor made them feel as well as they possibly could have. “Patients will have a strong relationship with your organization because they have confidence they’re being healed. If you fill the patient’s needs, you earn their trust and gain their loyalty,” he added.

To more effectively assess whether a patient feels their needs have been met, you must first understand what’s most important to them. “It’s about listening. It is about asking patients what do you want to get out of your healthcare? What is your goal here?” said Donovan. “That can be really critical towards building trust.”

It’s also necessary to note that patient needs may vary greatly between departments or specialties. For example, patients visiting an urgent care clinic will likely be laser-focused on whether they feel they’re on the way to being healed. However, chronic patients of an oncology practice may prioritize other aspects, like the level of education they’re receiving from their provider. Consider using department-specific surveys to assess your patients on the factors that impact their trust the most, then leverage those insights to help inform the creation of specialty-specific patient trust surveys.

The incidents that cause a patient to lose trust in your organization may not be as clear-cut as you might assume. Let’s say a patient’s trust in your organization has diminished following a biopsy—you might assume this is a relatively isolated incident, perhaps caused by a physician’s poor bedside manner when conveying the results to the patient. However, the root cause could be an unexpected factor, such as the patient feeling like they didn’t receive the appropriate level of communication before and during the procedure. Zeroing in on those inflection points provides valuable insight that can help you establish best practices throughout your organization.

To truly understand the factors impacting patient trust and better address those needs, it’s essential to go one step further and connect with your patients. In Mattison’s experience, the organizations that have been able to improve patient trust have one thing in common: involvement of senior leadership. “It’s important for someone at a senior level who really cares and knows the organization to take the time to do it,” he explained. “These insights need to be understood and prioritized.”

A simple phone call can also provide you with the opportunity to reestablish trust and convey a sense of empathy. According to Mattison, that simple touch can really be a differentiator. “If you have the opportunity to close the loop, that human element of healthcare can come in,” he said.

By identifying touchpoints where patient trust is either built or lost, you can discover consistent themes and opportunities for improvement. “What matters most is how we identify and act on when we see potential moments that a patient’s trust is at risk,” shared Mattison.

By leveraging this data and incorporating your findings into your organization’s employee training and development programs, you can take significant steps to improve patient trust in your organization and, ultimately, elevate patient experience across the continuum of care. [Read more about using employee feedback to drive training and development in healthcare.]

According to Mattison, improved trust can also inherently improve a patient’s perception of experience. “I think if you have a high degree of trust with a patient, certain aspects of patient experience matter a bit less, like waiting on hold for just a few more minutes,” he said. “However, if you don’t have a lot of trust, then every bit of consumer effort is amplified.”

Learn how to use feedback to increase patient trust and elevate the quality of care and experiences across your organization. Visit our healthcare center and get to know our agile, purpose-built healthcare solutions.

Read about how to use employee feedback to tackle employee burnout in the healthcare industry.

¹This SurveyMonkey study was conducted from April 30-May 8, 2021. We surveyed 338 U.S.-based healthcare professionals. The sample was balanced by age, race, among other demographic variables, according to the U.S. Census.