Quality improvement is the lifeblood of the healthcare industry. To be sure, successful efforts depend on consistent data collection, analysis, and implementation. Constant feedback from patients is vital to meeting overarching patient acquisition goals, maintaining performance standards, and providing the outstanding patient experience healthcare organizations want to be known for—from both a clinical and customer service perspective.
What is the purpose of quality improvement?
The primary purpose of quality improvement is to “create efficiencies and address the needs of customers.” It provides organizations with key benefits including:
- Improved customer service, increased revenue, and greater efficiency
- Dependence on data-driven solutions instead of subjective or baseless opinions
- Elimination of waste and inefficiencies, prioritizing the well-being of employees and patients alike
Ultimately, quality improvement can help you better understand and meet the needs of your customers, whether they be patients, physicians, or staff, allowing you to deliver the kind of service they expect.
What are examples of quality improvement in healthcare?
When it comes to customer quality improvement, healthcare organizations collect careful feedback and analyze data to determine areas of improvement. They study pain points and make changes based on data to ensure their patient experience is as convenient and optimized as possible.
Recent research has identified the following three areas as prime places to focus healthcare experience improvement efforts.
1. Patients need more telehealth and communication options.
According to recent research, COVID-related concerns drove nearly 68% of care delays, and telehealth usage has nearly tripled in the last few years. Since COVID, 85.5% of consumers expect local businesses to offer more convenient communication, and 65.6% believe texting makes working with a local business more convenient.
With the exception of some rural areas, healthcare organizations have recognized that patients are eager to access telehealth tools and digital communication where they can receive medical care from the comfort of their own homes. This addresses both safety and travel concerns and an increased desire for convenience. Telehealth visits often function through a mobile app that customers can navigate with a bit of practice.
Healthcare providers have also realized that texting is now the norm and a capability that patients are expecting their healthcare providers to offer. Texting enables healthcare providers to communicate information such as appointment reminders, feedback requests, or a notice that staff is running behind and a patient could come in 15 minutes later. Many healthcare organizations are implementing text solutions and seeing outstanding quantifiable results as they attempt to increase convenience throughout every phase of the patient journey.
2. Patients want mobile payment options via text.
Collecting and paying medical bills can be a nightmare; communication bounces between providers, insurance, and patients, and letters come in the mail with confusing information about how much was charged versus how much a patient owes. This outdated system is something consumers have left behind in most other industries, yet still face in healthcare. Many consumers fail to pay because of a lack of convenience.
Research has shown that the benefits of text messaging overshadow even the most diligent phone call follow-up system. That’s because reports show 82% of people don’t listen to a voicemail left by an unknown number. Consumers are nearly twice as likely (1.8x) to prefer texting to any other communication method. Text has an open rate of up to 98%, and on average 95% of messages are opened within 3 minutes. Additionally, 84.4% of consumers have used services such as contactless payments since COVID-19.
Healthcare systems have found that offering mobile payments helps reduce friction, improve bill collection, and increase patient satisfaction by allowing patients to pay how they want to pay.
3. Healthcare organizations can meet patients’ digital expectations with HIPAA compliant tools.
The patient demand is for simplicity and convenience. The HIPAA demand is for strict regulation of Protected Health Information (PHI) in transit.
To meet expectations for convenient patient communication centered around PHI, healthcare organizations have opted for mobile web-based browser sessions. Whether they’re communicating through an app or an online patient portal, they have control of what happens to patient data—and texting (about PHI, not necessarily for scheduling, feedback, or payments) does not meet HIPAA standards of security. Adding in a few authentication steps and having patients opt-in to whatever form of messaging they use has allowed providers to communicate with patients in a convenient and secure way.
What are the main steps of quality improvement?
Creating a plan is critical to the success of quality improvement efforts and should involve your entire team. According to a recent report from Smartsheet, there are generally six steps of a healthcare quality improvement approach:
- Create mission and vision statements. You and your team should be aligned with who you are, your vision for the future, and what you hope to achieve long-term. This might be something as simple as “offer evidence-based solutions to comprehensively address our clients’ needs.”
- Set improvement goals. This is the numbers section. Determine quantitative indicators of progress that can point you to specific areas in need of quality improvement.
- Research issue background and context. Consider specific issues in this stage and examine existing data that you will use to monitor success.
- Collect and analyze data. This is fairly straightforward. You should measure input, results, and processes. Interpret data to find improvement opportunities and identify patterns.
- Make changes. Make changes according to the opportunities and patterns you’ve identified.
- Analyze and communicate results. This is the part of the plan where you examine what worked and what didn’t. It’s especially important to focus on successes so that you can keep quality top of mind.
This process is proven and simple and allows you to find and address inefficiencies quickly—especially if you make it a continuous cycle instead of a one-time thing. Still, even though quality improvement is an established and proven process, many organizations tend to face challenges with it—often centered around communication. Among the challenges:
- Expectations are unclear. If plans and expectations are unclear, they won’t be met. Much of this has to do with the first two steps in your quality improvement plan. Your goals and expectations need to be quantifiable and broken down into actionable steps.
- Changes are top-down. In hospital organizations, changes are often ineffective when the administration fails to get buy-in from everyone involved in implementing changes. For example, if a new product is set for use, many employees might miss the memo from administration or feel nervous about using the product and fail to do so. It’s crucial to communicate clearly what the changes are and how they will benefit the organization, community, or both. Communicating benefits creates buy-in.
- Individuals and teams fail to collaborate. Just like the previously noted problem, quality improvement processes fail when collaboration and communication fail. To overcome this, individuals and teams need to meet frequently, discuss openly, and address reservations or concerns.
The bottom line … it is crucial to maintain transparent communication across your team, especially with your stakeholders, during every phase of quality improvement.
Make Quality Improvement a Marketing Priority
Quality improvement should be a priority for every organization that wants to optimize the way it meets customers’ needs. In turn, quality improvement should impact every aspect of your marketing plan by improving your strategies through careful planning, research, and experimentation. Tracking and understanding results is necessary for every marketer who really wants to meet the organization’s customers where they are and deliver the ultimate customer care.