How to Boost Emergency Patient Satisfaction and Lower Costs

Happier patients and a better budget? It’s not too good to be true. Whether it’s long wait times or something else dragging down your patient satisfaction scores, you can take steps to give people a better experience. Chances are these moves can be good for your bottom-line too.

1) Slow Down and Listen

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Encourage doctors and other staff to take their time when they talk with patients. This may sound counterintuitive. Slow down when things get stressful and busy? When health care providers keep patients up to date on what they are thinking in their decision making process, patients report a better experience. It can also encourage patients to share information that may help doctors make the right diagnosis and only order necessary tests, saving everyone money. This is especially the case because, by at least one estimate from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, nearly half of all emergency department (ED) bills go unpaid.

2) Provide Patients With Follow-Up Instructions and Make Nurse Calls

When your hospital staff has information they easily can pass along to patients about how to care for themselves and take prescriptions, it improves the chances of recovery. One study found a link between whether patients get better and their satisfaction. It makes sense. They went to the emergency department to get fixed. Did you help them make that happen? It not, they may wind up in your emergency department again. Repeat visits add costs. This can be especially costly if they are uninsured and unable to pay.

Older patients and people who live alone may benefit from a follow-up call from a patient navigator. These nurses can make sure that patients are following their aftercare instructions. They can also encourage them to seek follow-up care with their primary care doctor or give them information on other places where they can find medical care on an ongoing basis.

3) Develop a Plan to Cut Crowding

This is often the number-one problem emergency departments face. It causes long wait times for patients to be seen and before they can get discharged. That’s often a top patient complaint. Crowding can also compromise quality of care, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. It also puts strain on the staff.

The best way to tackle the issue of crowding is to make a plan. It’s likely that you can make improvements in a few areas and yield budget savings too by creating efficiencies.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality suggests that you form a patient flow team to examine the whole patient experience process from check-in to discharge. The team should ideally include members from across the hospital. Doing that makes sure no part of the process is left out. Plus, it creates buy-in. When people are involved in the planning, they are better at communicating changes and more likely to follow them.

Once the team is formed, you'll work together to focus on the areas that need fixing and putting your plan into action. Ways to measure if goals are being met and celebration of successes are key to making these plans pay off.

4) Know Your Patients and Hire Allied Health Professionals

Mid Level medical staff members can help patients have a better experience. When an ED is staffed up properly, Physician’s Assistants and Nurse Practitioners can provide timely patient screening and develop a rapport with the patients.

These allied health professionals are especially helpful to evaluate incoming emergency patients and triage them for emergency or minor care. You want to be able to quickly figure out what your patients need and match them with the right providers for the right service. They can also be the ones to provide care for less complicated cases.

Remember that if you do need to make new hires, another bonus is that these health professionals are more affordable than doctors. If you don't feel equipped to make the case for extra staff, you can look to outside consultants to help you pull the right data and produce justification reports. Sometimes spending some money upfront can make savings down the road. Consultants can also help create a patient flow plan.

5) Develop Short-Stay Clinical Services

Not all patients who come in to the ED need to admitted to wait for lab results or stay in a bed to be observed. When it's not necessary, it can feel awkward for the patient and be expensive for them, their insurance company (if they have one), and your hospital.

Under the new healthcare law, Medicare can reduce or cut reimbursements for unneeded stays. Admitting these patients can also take up valuable bed space from someone in the waiting room who really needs it.

Instead, you may want to create two types of waiting areas for patients who have been evaluated but don’t need to be admitted. One can be as simple as a nice waiting room with reclining chairs. Some people call this a results waiting room. Patients who don’t need a bed but are waiting on things like X-ray results can wait here.

The second type is an observational unit or clinical decision unit. Patients who would go here are also waiting on results but may need a little bit of treatment and a bed. However, they don’t need to be admitted upstairs. Patients who need to be watched for things like low-risk chest pain, asthma, or dehydration can stay there and keep costs down.

For more ideas on how to improve patient experience while helping your budget, reach out to us. We'd love to talk about how we can help.


ECI Healthcare Partners: “How to Cut Emergency Costs Without Compromising Quality of Care,” “Boost Your Patient Satisfaction Scores.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “What Do We Really Know About Patient Satisfaction.”

Agency for Research Quality and Assurance: “Improving Patient Flow and Reducing Emergency Department Crowding: A Guide for Hospitals.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: “Reducing Nonurgent Use of Emergency Departments and Improving Appropriate Care in Appropriate Settings.”

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: “Observation Medicine - Clinical Decision Unit.”

University of Maryland Medical Center

The Commonwealth Fund: “Achieving Efficiency: Lessons from Four Top-Performing Hospitals.”

RINPR: “No Easy Task: "Reinventing" Medicaid To Improve Health, Contain Costs.”

American College of Emergency Physicians: “Emergency Department Observation Services.”

The Hospitalist: “Pros and Cons of Clinical Observation Units.”