There is no doubt that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly transformed the patient experience at medical institutions worldwide.
For one, the advent of telehealth and virtual care means more patients are now interacting with their healthcare providers digitally, which completely changes the dynamics of the patient experience.
How can doctors reassure their patients that a teleconsultation has the same level of thoroughness – if not more – as a physical consultation? Do patients feel safe enough to share private information with their healthcare providers via a digital platform?
The inpatient experience has also changed, with strict measures – such as a reduction in the number of daily visitors allowed – put in place to minimise the risk of cross-infections.
Left unaddressed, the patient experience in a COVID-19 world would very likely take a turn for the worse.
However, Dr Chatchai Arthur Yachantha, Senior Director, Patient Experience at Bumrungrad International Hospital in Thailand, believes it is still possible to provide excellent patient experience even with the challenges of the pandemic.
He shares with Hospital Management Asia (HMA) his top three tips to ensuring that the patient experience is a pleasant one.
Keep an open mind to understand your patients
The first piece of advice Dr Yachantha has is for healthcare providers to take the time to listen to their patients, and crucially, try to understand the reason behind their points of view, even though it may differ from the norm.
The needs and wants of patients have naturally shifted due to the pandemic, with safety and protection from the virus now becoming their main priority.
To reassure their patients and visitors that the hospital was taking the utmost care to minimise the risk of infections, Bumrungrad redesigned many of their operations with safety and infection control at the top of their minds – this led to them becoming the first hospital in the world to be awarded Global Healthcare Accreditation’s (GHA) Certification of Conformance with COVID-19 Guidelines for Medical Travel Programs.
“You have to understand the origin of the patients, where they come from, what fears they have, and what concerns they would like to fulfil,” said Dr Yachantha, who spoke on the subject of patient experience during COVID-19 at last year’s HMA conference.
For example, Dr Yachantha and his team realised early on that patients who were quarantined in their hospital often felt bored and lonely while in isolation.
To improve their experience, Bumrungrad introduced a slew of new initiatives for their quarantined patients, such as providing them with access to a psychiatrist and nutritionist to see to their mental wellbeing and diet respectively. The hospital even engaged a sports trainer to produce online exercise videos for their patients, so they could keep themselves fit and occupied while in isolation.
Bumrungrad also partnered with several departmental stores and duty-free shops to provide a digital shopping experience – this allowed their patients to make purchases online and have it delivered to them in the ward.
While these new services were initially only available to their quarantined patients, the hospital soon extended it to the rest of their patients, including those who were being treated at home.
Take good care of your employees
Dr Yachantha’s next tip to providing excellent patient experience would be for hospitals to ensure their employees are well taken care of.
“The whole hospital, starting from the porters, the security, to the medical practitioners, have vital positions and functions to creating a better patient experience,” explained Dr Yachantha.
“So, if the employee is not feeling good or is tired out, then the patient experience won’t be good as well.”
One of the biggest issues Bumrungrad faced was care fatigue, with many of the staff assigned to COVID-19 wards often having to work long hours.
Hailing these staff as “heroes”, Dr Yachantha revealed the hospital quickly moved to implement initiatives to take care of their staff welfare.
“Care fatigue for healthcare workers is one of the biggest problems we have, so the first thing we needed to do was to create a pleasant employee experience,” said Dr Yachantha.
“So our top management has been working hard to acquire and distribute vitamins and health supplements to our staff, while also doing our utmost to provide the best Personal protective equipment (PPE) available to them.
“We also opened up some rooms in the hotels we’ve partnered with for staff – some of whom have to work 24 hour shifts – to stay overnight, so as to reduce the hassle of travelling to and fro their homes.
“But the most important thing is our continuous updates to our staff on the virus. We want everyone to have the latest knowledge about COVID-19, so that they can perform to the best of their abilities, while doing the right things to keep themselves safe from the virus.”
Dr Yachantha added that their frontline workers were all vaccinated at the earliest opportunity. In addition, the hospital also worked closely with the manufacturers of N95 masks to design a more comfortable – but no less safe – version of the mask for their staff.
Be prepared for change
Finally, Dr Yachantha claims that for hospitals to provide a comfortable experience for their patients in the time of COVID-19, they will have to be ready to make changes where necessary.
This is especially so given that many medical institutions, including Bumrungrad, have had to accelerate the adoption of telehealth and virtual care.
For Bumrungrad, this meant redesigning many of their treatment plans to reduce the number of visits their patients had to make to the hospital.
To that end, the hospital launched their online hospital and pharmacy to provide medical care to their patients digitally. Guidelines were also developed to educate medical staff on the best practices of conducting teleconsultations.
Bumrungrad also invested in new technologies to ensure that their teleconsultations would not only be of a high quality, but also that their patients’ privacy would be secure during these sessions.
A 24-hour home care service was also launched, allowing patients to receive specialist medical care from the comfort of their homes without needing to travel to the hospital.
Said Dr Yachantha: “You have to understand that, due to COVID-19, there’s a paradigm shift on how care is being provided.
“It’s great that we have a lot of new technologies that allow us to provide care remotely. But everyone at the hospital needs to change their mindset as well and accept that this will likely be the future of healthcare.”
HMA 2021, which will take place from 14-16 September, will feature discussions on topics such as patient experience, as well as how healthcare can be made more accessible to all. Click here to register for the conference now.