Every patient has their own unique concerns, priorities and preferences. So how do you ensure you provide a consistent and positive experience for them, each and every time?

In the following article we provide some practical tips and guidance on making sure patients are at the heart of all your processes – and look at how this approach can bring benefits to practices.

Keeping up appearances

A patient’s experience with their GP begins long before they walk into the practice – in fact, it begins before they’ve even considered needing to see a GP.

The pervasiveness of digital technology has created an ‘always on’ culture that practices need to be a part of. Led by interactions with the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Google and other leading consumer organisations, we’ve come to expect immediate access to goods, services and information – and patient expectations are no different.

A visible and accessible web presence is an essential first touch point for patients, allowing them to interact with the practice and the services they provide at a time that suits them. As well as providing up-to-date information, a website should act as the gateway to online services such as appointment booking, repeat prescriptions and, increasingly, a level of online triage and self-care options. A well thought out website can not only improve the patient experience but also reduce calls and unnecessary visits to the practice.

Communicate on their terms

Knowing when, how and how often to communicate with patients is absolutely central to maintaining a positive experience. Too little contact can lead to a number of issues, including missed appointments. But too much contact can mean important messages get lost in the mix.

It’s important that you communicate on patients’ terms. This means ensuring that records are regularly checked and updated at every available opportunity, so that you can understand their preferences. Automated check-in screens or login pages for guest Wi-Fi are perfect opportunities to do this, allowing patients to confirm their details and update their preferences without having to impact on either GPs’ or support staff’s time.

Consistency is key

While the prevalence of digital technology is undoubtedly impacting on how patients interact with practices, there’s no denying the importance of routine and consistency too. Relatively simple steps like maintaining regular clinic times can sometimes get overlooked when dealing with the pace of change happening, but can make a big difference to those with long-term conditions.

Ensuring, where possible, that appointments run on time can have a huge impact on a patient’s experience. There are a number of steps that can be taken to help make sure delays are kept to a minimum so that patients and GPs can get the most from consultations. One of these steps is to use patient call systems, which help ensure an effective flow of patients in the practice whilst giving GPs valuable moments to prepare ahead of the consultation.

Small changes can make a big difference

We‘ve previously looked at the idea of marginal gains in our article discussing efficiency savings, and the same principal can be applied to improving the patient experience. Huge sweeping change to the way a practice is run can often be counterproductive for both patients and staff. That’s why implementing a series of small changes and making sure they work for everyone can have the biggest and most sustainable impact.

Whether changing the layout of the waiting area, refreshing the magazines at regular intervals or introducing new consultation types such as video and telephone consultations, the key is to be clear on why you are making the changes. It’s also vital to gain feedback from your patients to ensure that the changes you make are positive for everyone.

One widely used method for gathering feedback in the consumer market is the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which can be just as effective for practices. It works by asking a single question which can be answered with a score of one to ten. This can help you to get a snapshot of how patients feel after interacting with your practice and services, allowing you to build an understanding of your patients’ experiences without taking up too much of their time.

There are many routes you can go down to gain feedback, though they all hinge around the former point of communicating on patients’ terms. Whether it’s through using the Wi-Fi network or check-in screens, sending a follow up email or SMS that connects to a landing page on your website, or even asking patients to fill in a piece of paper at reception – the key is to make sure the information you receive is collated and used to help guide any future changes.

Perception is everything

Whether a patient visits your practice once a year or once a week, their experience plays a huge part in the care they receive and how they respond to it. By being actively aware of this and looking for ways to improve patient experience, you can bring real and noticeable differences to people’s health.