Improving patients’ experiences in the consultation room

Photo of Aleksandra KwiecieńAleksandra Kwiecień
May 19, 2022
... min read

Over 80% of healthcare users find their experience with health services unsatisfactory. The whole health system is often too complex to navigate. Administrative procedures are unclear. Waiting times are too long. While changing the entire system is impossible, we can use technology to positively influence the relationship between patient and physician.

At Infermedica, we asked patients about their perceptions of medical consultations. We wanted to learn how they feel about communicating with physicians and whether they feel engaged in their healthcare journey.

Patients' role in the medical consultation flow. Illustration by Magda Kościańska.

Why is patient engagement so important?

For far too long, patients have been passive participants in the medical process. All of the knowledge and authority were held by physicians. Today, with access to various information sources on the internet, things have changed. Patients can easily google their symptoms (however whether asking Google is a good idea is a different question). Patients now come to medical consultations with a different set of expectations.

The new behaviors of patients are also strongly correlated with the commercialization of medical services. With the growing commercialization of healthcare systems, there is less and less space for interpersonal relationships and the time it takes to build them.

Our approach to patient engagement research

Infermedica researchers were curious about the experiences of today's patients. That is why they conducted a short survey, asking about patients’ feelings within the modern healthcare system. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the problems, our researchers decided to use Individual In-depth Interviews (IDIs). These interviews allow time and space to investigate many topics and to try to find the roots of patient problems within the healthcare system.

During the interviews, we spoke with patients aged 25–45 that had previously consulted with a physician in a public or private medical center.

The goal of the interviews was to uncover:

  • General experiences during medical consultations
  • Routines before visiting a doctor
  • Flow in the consultation room
  • Patients’ needs during and after the medical consultation
  • Challenges during the medical consultation
  • The ideal medical encounter

Our researchers asked similar questions to a group of physicians. Discover the challenges physicians face →

Challenges patients face surrounding medical visits

1. Delaying medical appointments

Patients admit that first, they try to heal themselves at home. They use past experiences, ask close friends and family for advice and seek answers on the internet. If these methods fail, or when the symptoms worsen, they decide to visit a doctor. This may not always work in the patient’s benefit, however, as postponing medical advice can often lead to a worsening of their condition and a longer recovery.

2. Scheduling difficulties

Physician availability is limited, and often the only available appointments are during patients’ workdays. Arranging a suitable time for consultations is difficult: It often requires taking a day off or rescheduling other plans.

3. Avoiding calling to schedule appointments

Patients find it difficult to book and register over the phone as the waiting and call back times are often long. They generally prefer to access online booking systems on a webpage or mobile app to find an appropriate doctor and visit time.

4. Not knowing how to prepare

Patients don't always have access to information on how to prepare for medical visits, especially visits with specialists. Instead, they tend to browse the internet or ask relatives. They try to collect the required information, past test results, and personal medical history but often can’t find everything or are unsure of what will be relevant.

5. Long wait times

Pre-booked appointments with physicians often do not happen at the intended time. Whether due to overbooking, administrative duties, or patients taking longer than their allotted times, physicians are often running behind. Because of all the preparation and effort to schedule their day around the appointment, patients are often frustrated and stressed out when their appointment time gets bumped. These long wait times may also discourage patients from seeking treatment in the first place.

6. Short average consultation time per patient

Patients are conscious of the short time they have to describe their concerns to their doctors. They feel pressured and rush to list all of their symptoms and the course of their illness. Their report is often disrupted by physicians asking medical questions, and patients can lose their train of thought: The stressed-out patients are often unsure how to answer and may forget other important symptoms, events, or even the medications they take.

“When a physician asks me a question, I say everything that I remember at the moment,” adds Joanna, an interviewed patient.

7. Wanting more physician attention

During the medical history portion of the visit, patients note that the physician's focus is often on the computer, and they may feel neglected when the physician doesn’t look at or speak to them directly.  It can be difficult to discuss things further during the physical exam because the physician is often occupied with the exam or related procedures. At the end of the visit, the doctor must explain their findings and the plan of action. By this point, patients often have many questions, but their allotted visit time is over.

“When a physician is adding information to the system, I feel I shouldn’t be there. I look at the wall. I would prefer to leave the office,” comments Ula, a participating patient.

8. Feelings of guilt and responsibility

Many patients are aware that they are not adequately prepared for the visit. They may also wonder if they should be more involved in the diagnosis and treatment processes. Yet the time pressure and lack of information often lead to them feeling guilty for occupying the doctor's limited time. They may also feel that they do not have enough agency in their own care.

9. Doubting physicians’ recommendations

During a short visit, patients may find it challenging to understand everything the physician is saying about the diagnosis and treatment. There is very little additional time for them to ask questions and process what’s happening. After the visit, patients may need additional information or may not be sure if the prescribed treatment is really the best option for them—but at this point, it is often too late to go back. Patients may feel that physicians aren’t interested in the success of their treatment. They may feel alone.

How can we improve the patient experience?

Our research confirms the long-standing challenges in physician-patient relationships. Solving them won’t be easy and requires a multi-dimensional approach—from educating patients and improving their access to reliable medical knowledge to seeking optimization within healthcare systems.

Infermedica sought a modern, technological solution to improve some of the existing challenges between patients and physicians. What they produced is an interactive intake form that can be shared with patients before the visit. What it helps with is giving more time and space to prepare for the visit. First, it collects the patient’s symptoms and medical history. Second, it uses this initial evidence to ask additional personalized questions and learn more about the patient's existing condition(s).

The proposed intake solution doesn’t stop there. Collected patient data are transferred to the physician, who can use them to understand patients’ needs faster, minimize the stress during the interview, and reduce their computer-based administrative work, as the essential patient information is already in their EMR. Such digital health solutions can support organizations in improving patient centredness.

Infermedica Intake helps build patient engagement and makes them an equal partner in the patient-physician relationship.

Read more about Intake solution or get in touch with our team!