Maslow’s Hierarchy and Five Touch Points That Improve Patient Experience

Abraham Maslow

The need for patients to feel good about their healthcare providers and their experience isn’t just a matter of proper manners in the office. In fact, patient satisfaction has its roots in a number of developmental psychology studies. Perhaps the best known is psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Generally, Maslow provided an outline of five fundamental human motivations that are necessary for people to feel wanted, needed and to belong. These include Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging, Esteem and Self-Actualization.  Although the rationale is sophisticated, Maslow’s principles are simple to use in all the patient-practice touch points.

A basic understanding of the psychology behind patient satisfaction and patient experience is a useful tool in understanding patients as individuals with personal and emotional needs beyond their medical needs.

Not only does it make good sense on a people-level, improving the patient experience is simply good business. Satisfaction and a positive experience are more likely to result when patients feel like they’ve been treated with respect, from the first phone call to the physician face time.

But making patients happier isn’t just about putting on a nice tie and a smile. There are a number of things you should be doing to cement the physician-patient relationship. Maslow’s hierarchy is almost constantly in play, but here are five points of patient interaction where simple things can make a powerful impression.

  • Make it easy for patients to access your services. This includes getting through to the office on the phone. A busy signal or a long wait on hold can be frustrating and off-putting. Your patients should feel worthy of your timely attention by a prompt appointment. Other considerations include making it easy to find the office and not have to pay for parking. Plus, keep in-office wait times to a minimum.
  • Make them feel welcome and connected. Patient engagement should begin the minute they walk in the door. Immediate recognition and a sense of welcome inspires a feeling of belonging in a caring and compassionate environment. Are patients greeted personally and by name at the beginning of their visit? Are they escorted to front desk at the conclusion? 
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Are phone calls returned promptly—ideally within 24 hours? Is it easy to get test results? Do you have an online patient portal where patients can schedule or confirm appointments and fill out patient forms? Are those forms easy to understand?
  • Focus on staying patient-centered.  Ever-increasing time constraints and financial pressures placed on physicians today sometimes show through to patients.  When they feel as if they are “being processed” as one more faceless number, rather than feeling cared for as an individual with unique needs—they feel emotionally diminished.

With that in mind, one of the easiest and yet critical steps toward patient satisfaction is…

  • Ask patients what they expect from you. Understanding expectations is always the first step in delivering what patients want from each and every encounter. Certainly there is a health or medical issue, but other needs are likely in play as well.  Ask at the outset and ask again at the conclusion of the visit. Ask if they feel that their concerns and questions have been addressed. And ask what else would help a physician-patient relationship to have mutual trust and respect?

Patient satisfaction is nearly always connected to the personal needs of the individual. Above and beyond the clinical care, there is a need to feel respected, wanted and understood. Feeling welcome and having a sense of belonging maintains the patient-practice-physician bond. Patients return. Patients refer. And most importantly, better outcomes can be achieved.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

About Stewart Gandolf, MBA

Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is both the Publisher of PatientExperience.com and the Co-Founder of Healthcare Success Strategies. Stewart has written for dozens of leading healthcare publications and spoken at hundreds of venues on a variety of topics including marketing, reputation management and patient experience. Additionally, he has personally consulted for over 1,500 hospitals and practices. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Stewart worked for leading advertising agencies including J. Walter Thompson.

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