Healthcare News & Insights

Finding the right balance when making investments

While the overarching goal across the healthcare industry has always been to deliver the best quality of care to our patients, physicians in every specialization are also faced with the fact that health care is a business. In this guest post, Dr. Jennifer Adams, a graduate of the Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine, presents the need for healthcare administrators and doctors to pursue solutions that help support the balance between providing quality patient care and running a successful business. 

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At the end of the day, just like in any other business, there’s a bottom line that must be met. This poses a unique challenge for administrators and doctors, who are directly responsible for a hospital’s successes and inadequacies. They must always consider a scale whereby the weight of the value of “the patient experience” balances with a facility’s need to achieve workflow and resource efficiencies. Finding that balance is essential to success.

This is especially apparent in the radiology field. As a board-certified diagnostic radiology specialist, I spend every day working to improve the health and happiness of my patients while also keeping in mind the financial sustainability of my facility. In radiology, the breast biopsy process specifically exemplifies both the need, and the opportunity, for improvement.

Although no patient experience is identical, after performing myriad breast biopsies I have seen that there are multiple consistent shortcomings involved with the procedure. These flaws reiterate the need to find balance between patient care and the bottom line.

Left side of the scale: Patient experience & satisfaction

There are several reasons why the patient experience is key when considering healthcare business and technology investments. Perhaps the most important of these is the power of word-of-mouth. When patients have a positive healthcare experience, they will likely tell others, increasing patients and revenue for the center. Likewise, a negative appointment is often the impetus for those who were unsatisfied to seek a different facility for their future healthcare needs and deter others they know from going to the site of their poor experience.

Generating or losing business via word-of-mouth is only one qualitative facet of how patient satisfaction can heavily influence a facility’s success. In today’s healthcare landscape, a patient’s evaluation also carries quantitative weight.

Any healthcare professional likely knows the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, now uses hospital patient satisfaction surveys, like the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), as one of the factors for how Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement payments are decided. This creates an immediate need for patient experience to be improved, as facilities want their patient satisfaction scores to yield optimal reimbursement results.

Improving patient experience requires administrators and doctors to evaluate processes, from start to finish, from the patient’s point of view. Consider the breast biopsy procedure. When my patients enter the waiting room, they’re already feeling anxious as they listen for their name to be called, signaling the move to the procedure room. They know a biopsy is in the very near future for them, which is uncomfortable and scary, and after this unnerving procedure, they will be receiving a diagnosis that may reveal life-changing cancer. These tense patients are placed on a table or in an upright position and must hold completely still as the needle enters their breast and extracts tissue samples. If the breast tissue that appeared suspicious on the mammography exam is in a hard-to-reach spot, the woman is likely contorted into an even less desirable position she must hold for the needle to reach the appropriate tissue area in the breast.

This discomfort demonstrates there’s room for improvement when it comes to the patient experience; and ultimately, working to make refinements where possible will only better a patient’s satisfaction score of a facility, which will enhance reputation and drive revenue.

Right side of the scale: Business & the bottom line

As in any other field, the cliché that time is money holds true. In the healthcare field, more time gives way to more patients being seen and revenues being earned. One hiccup in a procedure can derail an entire day’s worth of business, which is why it’s important to identify where these obstacles are likely to appear and mitigate them.

When it comes to breast biopsies, radiologists must verify that the breast tissue sample they are obtaining from their patients is the correct specimen needed for the pathologist to provide an accurate diagnosis. The verification tool is often in a different room than the biopsy procedure, and the woman must wait for the doctor to leave and return with news that the sample is verified or not. If it isn’t verified, the radiologist must extract more tissue with the needle and repeat the process, until the samples have positive verification.

In addition to a potentially negative impact on the patient experience, this extension of the procedure’s duration also ties up rooms and other resources that could be used on the next patient, who is now growing more impatient in the waiting room while her impression of the facility slowly weakens. In fact, the amount of time spent traveling to verify the sample can average around five to 10 minutes per biopsy – time lost that radiologists could be spending fulfilling other important work, like making calls to patients and completing paperwork.

Balance the scale

The breast biopsy procedure is only one example of many across the healthcare industry demonstrating that administrators should consider patient experience and the bottom line when deciding how to invest their money and time, while maintaining acute awareness of keeping this crucial scale equally balanced.

What’s more, it’s critical for major R&D specialists and medical device manufacturers to embrace the important roles they should be playing by evaluating the products they develop and offer to consumers – ensuring that they’re innovating in ways that both keenly consider, and benefit, the patient experience and the bottom line. Their time and efforts spent doing so will be rewarded, as doctors like myself are eager to encourage investment in these types of well-rounded products.

Dr. Jennifer Adams graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine in 1999. She works in Anderson, SC, and specializes in diagnostic radiology.

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