Small Practices’ Role in Improving Patient Experience

This month, we’ve been talking about the concept of the patient experience, an enormous topic that deserves all the attention it can get. There are so many facets to the patient experience when you consider the various health systems that must interact, the amount of information that a patient may potentially bring to the engagement, the pluses and minuses of insurance, and actual discomfort of the patient.

It’s too broad a subject to tackle all in one go, so we’ll focus more narrowly on how medical practices can deliver on patient experience. Specifically, let’s take a look at the advantages medical practices have in delivering and maintaining a high quality patient experience.

The Disadvantage

First, let me quickly get through some of the drawbacks. (Trust me, we’re not being negative here. This will establish our parameters.)

Medical practices will in most cases have smaller budgets and staffing than hospitals and other health organizations. Yes, there are some very large groups growing out there. has reported on groups like Mednax, with a network of 3,300+ doctors across the United States, but Mednax is still the exception to the rule.

The Advantage

With a smaller staff and budget, what are practices to do? Is it worth the trouble?

Yes, it matters. We’ve talked numerous times about patient satisfaction scores, but the patient experience is more than just that. We are talking about the health of your patient, and the emotional health of the individual plays a large role in the physical health.

The patient is less likely to become just a number.

Dr. Al-Agba wrote of the many advantages of the depth of the doctor-patient relationships in a smaller setting on The Healthcare Blog in a discussion on whether or not the direct primary care model of very large systems should continue. Whether or not DPC is a valid approach, small practices can focus on keeping the experience more lean and allowing patients and doctors to actually talk to one another, thereby building up the necessary trust to address the many issues that go beyond just the symptoms being treated.

It’s not just small practices that have the opportunity to beat larger systems. In a study on patient experience in hospitals presented at the ACHE in 2017, the data showed that “facilities with more than 50 beds and 100 employees were consistently scored worse on patient experience.”A.T. Still University professor Lihua Dishman went on to suggest that it may be easier for smaller hospitals to be able to make changes and that rural hospitals may be more familiar with what their patients need and are “closer to the communities they serve.”

Improving the Experience

Dr. Avi Ratnanesan wrote for The Beryl Institute of the return on investment of the patient experience, and one of the most important contributions of his piece is translating the “soft metrics” of emotion into opportunities to better deliver care. Specifically, he advises clinicians on recognizing a particular emotion and then empowering the patient with a relevant solution.

For example, when there is fear because the patient does not have enough information, provide learning opportunities. When the patient is faced with helplessness, provide the “opportunity for staff to develop the patient’s sense of power over the situation through education, tools and technology.”

It’s a great piece that is worth your time to read. The main point for our discussion is that your practice has the opportunity to focus in on the patient at a level other organizations cannot, and you can establish systems around what to do in various cases of patient need more rapidly.

How to Communicate the Difference

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the advantage of a small practice. The real question here is, “does the patient know the advantage?” One of the key questions we discuss with practices in reviewing their marketing and communication strategies is, “How is your practice different?” If you’re a small practice, you already have an important difference to highlight. Patients aren’t just numbers. Be sure to tell them that on your website, on your marketing materials, and on any communication where it would be relevant.

To switch industries for a second, small businesses can still prosper provided that they give their customers a unique reason to come back to them. I try to ride my bicycle whenever I get the chance, and I trust the team at my local bike shop to fix my family’s bikes much more than the mega-chain sporting goods store.

A medical practice can fulfill that same role by not trying to be like their larger counterparts.

Embrace the difference. Focus on the patient experience, and let your patients know that you are focused on the experience. When patients sense that you are serious and your patient scores show that you are serious, then your practice can stand out for all of the right reasons.