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Reframing the “patient experience”: Great PX starts with great CX

The patient experience (PX) starts long before someone steps through your doors. Patients turn to digital tools—like review sites and directories—to evaluate and choose healthcare providers and book appointments. And the pandemic has reinforced patients’ reliance on all things “digital,” hardcoding online consumer behaviors into the healthcare journey.


A Press Ganey study of more than 1,000 patients finds that how they make healthcare decisions today increasingly resembles “shopping” behaviors in consumer sectors—like retail, travel, and hospitality. The new patient experience extends beyond hospital walls to the digital marketplace. This creates a new imperative for PX leaders: The pre- and post-visit consumer experience (CX) is now intrinsically linked to the traditional “patient experience,” and it must be prioritized as part of any PX improvement plan.

The patient experience starts online

Even with more tools and resources at their disposal, 54.4% of consumers consider the healthcare journey difficult today (up from 50.4% in 2019). The top three challenges are: (1) appointment availability, (2) finding an in-network doctor, and (3) taking too much time. These pain points are driving consumer preferences for digital platforms and mobile devices in managing care.

Healthcare consumers expect easy access to care and a streamlined experience at every touchpoint—starting with digital search. Search engines are the most frequently used resource (65.4%), but they’re usually just a jumping-off point: Consumers check ~3 different sites in their care-selection journey. Ensuring your organization’s and its physicians' listings are updated everywhere is critical to get the right information in front of prospective patients. Outdated and incorrect data erodes trust with consumers who would otherwise choose your organization—and it’s increasingly difficult to bounce back.

>> Related read: Millennials and zoomers vs. boomers: How different generations seek out and choose healthcare providers

Friction anywhere along the journey impedes acquisition, especially if it happens early on. Incomplete listings information would discourage over a third of patients from booking an appointment, and ~35% say the same about an antiquated, hard-to-navigate site. 31.7% also agree that an incomplete profile on a hospital find-a-doctor or third-party directory would be a deal-breaker. Keeping name, address, and phone number (also known as NAP) consistent across listings is key to reducing frustration and, importantly, building trust.

Deliver service behaviors digitally

Patients maintain high standards throughout the healthcare experience. Consistently delivering compassionate connected care drives patient loyalty, but there’s more to customer service than what happens in the hospital or clinic. Organizations need to build compassionate, connected communication systems as well.

Accessibility and communication throughout the healthcare journey are critical to excellent CX and PX. One out of four patients reports that the ability to direct message (DM) or privately message a provider has impacted their decision to book an appointment. Difficulty contacting the office is the top reason a prospective patient would be discouraged from making an appointment. And nearly half say that the ability to make an appointment online has impacted their decision about healthcare providers, mirroring “click-to-buy" behaviors in the age of Amazon. Of course, in healthcare, the stakes are much higher. Once a patient has started to look elsewhere, any established provider relationships are less likely to get a second chance.

Online reputation sets the stage for PX

Transparent online feedback is the new litmus test for healthcare organizations. Most patients say a positive online reputation (4+ stars) is the greatest deciding factor in choosing one provider over another. With consumers increasingly relying on reviews, first impressions have never been more important. 61.2% of patients say poor quality of reviews (i.e., the reviews seem sponsored or untrustworthy) would discourage them from booking an appointment, while nearly a third say the same about not having enough reviews.

Consumers weigh multiple data points before booking, but online reviews and star ratings certainly take the cake. On average, consumers read around 5½ reviews before deciding about a doctor one way or another. 83% of patients will even check online ratings and reviews of a referred provider—and 84% would seek care elsewhere if that provider were rated under 4 stars. But securing those great reviews ties back to the patient experience and compassionate connected care at every touchpoint.

Close the loop by responding to all reviews, good or bad

Nobody likes seeing a poor review, but even top healthcare providers get them from time to time. First, there’s good news: Having one or two low-star reviews actually adds credibility to your online presence and reputation. And as long as you’re consistently collecting feedback, your less-than-glowing comments will get buried in no time.

Rather than approaching a negative online review as damage control, view it as an opportunity to help people, offer to correct the issue, reinforce your brand message, and broadcast your organization’s dedication to exceptional care—and service.

The line between the patient experience and the consumer experience is increasingly blurred. But at the end of the day, we’re talking about one human experience. Patients post reviews online, consumers use those reviews to make decisions, they then write reviews of their own, and the cycle continues. Without a PX strategy that integrates the consumer experience, any acquisition, satisfaction, and retention efforts will remain siloed—and fall short.

To identify gaps and opportunities in your organization’s PX and CX journey, reach out to a Press Ganey expert here.

About the author

Chrissy collaborates with teams across Press Ganey to design, develop, and deliver strategies to boost patient experience that are informed by over 400 million patient voices. Chrissy works closely with healthcare organizations nationwide as a strategic and operational partner. Chrissy brings over 30 years of expertise in advancing the patient experience and building an engaging and collaborative culture. Frequently called upon as a guest speaker, she is widely recognized for her pioneering work in healthcare consumerism and physician performance data transparency.

Profile Photo of Chrissy Daniels