How Hospitals are Solving the Patient Experience Problem

Patient experience has taken on greater importance in recent years as part of an overall effort to reform healthcare delivery. In addition to the launch of the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), which affects hospital reimbursement levels under CMS’ Value-Based Purchasing program, patients have made increasing demands for transparency, such as price lists, access to their own health records, and easier billing. In response, hospitals are taking multiple steps to improve patient experience, achieving higher overall scores and in some cases, even promoting better clinical outcomes.

Most hospitals and health systems focus on the interaction between patients and providers, especially nurses because they spend the most time with the patient out of any hospital personnel and can better influence the overall experience. Generally, patients have two main concerns: “am I being looked after properly,” and “do I understand my treatment?” It’s up to the provider to make patients believe their care team is invested in their health, that they aren’t simply “just another patient,” and to explain each phase of treatment and give patients an idea of what to expect. It requires a disciplined approach from committed staff. Michigan-based Lakeland Health pursued one successful method outlined in a 2015 Harvard Business Review article, in which the health system adopted a simple directive: “Bring Your Heart to Work.” Over the next three months, hospital leaders personally thanked anyone whom a coworker or patient reported had made a “small act of heartfelt service.” Before long, the health system improved its patient satisfaction rates from between the 25th and 50th percentile to the 95th, demonstrating the power of effective, visible leadership and a receptive staff.

Some health systems have also bolstered patient experience through organized consumer feedback and comment programs, even to the extent of publicly posting doctors’ ratings. University of Utah Health Care was one of the first organizations to make patient reviews of its providers available online in 2012, and others like Northwell Health and UPMC have followed suit. As University of Utah Health Care CEO Vivian Lee explains in a recent article on STAT, collecting and publishing ratings from confirmed patients is a better alternative than relying on 3rd party websites, which usually accept anonymous ratings. In addition, despite initial resistance, most providers have seen the value of patient feedback, and the system has successfully improved several key aspects of care delivery, such as reduced wait times, smoother referrals, and lower hospital noise levels.

 

Measurement Average Hospital Score
Nurses always communicated well 79.8%
Doctors always communicated well 81.6%
Always received help as soon as requested 68.2%
Pain always well controlled 70.9%
Staff always explained medicines administered 64.8%
Room and bathroom always clean 73.7%
Area around room always quite at night 62.0%
Given post-discharge instructions 87.0%
Understood post-discharge instructions 52.1%
Would rate hospital 9 or 10 71.9%
Would definitively recommend 71.5%

 

The design of a hospital itself can also affect patient satisfaction. Newer facilities that have been compared to hotels obviously provide a more comfortable atmosphere, but patients can still distinguish the quality of care itself. More practical designs can reduce noise levels, improve nursing response time, and reduce the likelihood of HAIs and patient falls. For example, individual rooms, especially in the ICU, not only offer privacy but inhibit the spread of diseases between patients and can be cost efficient over the long term, according to research. Decentralized nursing stations can quicken provider response time to alarms or patient requests. Specialized floor and ceiling panels can reduce noise and help patients sleep better. Some studies have even suggested that views of nature can hasten recovery time and decrease patient stress.

It’s also important to remember that the patient experience is not limited to clinical care. Excellent treatment may not compensate for a poor billing system or frustrating admission and discharge procedures. Non-clinical staff should attempt to perform with the same level of transparency and courtesy as providers, as it only takes one poor interaction to color a patient’s view of the entire organization. Montana-based St Peter’s Hospital, for instance, recently invested heavily in its billing processes, adding a patient call center, an expanded staff of financial counselors, online payment capabilities, and easier-to-read statements.

Offering the best patient experience is also good business, even if the clinical benefits aren’t always clear. Not all patients have a choice for hospital care, but when possible, they will likely select a facility that treated them or friends and loved ones well in the past. With tightening margins, a dedicated effort to improve patient experience can be a viable long-term business strategy, especially in competitive markets. More than ever, hospitals must put the patient first.

Definitive Healthcare has the most up-to-date, comprehensive and integrated data on over 7,700 hospitals, 1.4 million physicians, and numerous other healthcare providers. Our database includes patient experience measurements for hospitals, long-term care centers and home health agencies.

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