The Key to Outstanding Patient Experience

May 23, 2016

key to outstanding patient experience

Is there a shortcut to exceptional patient experience? Possibly, according to the 2016 Healthgrades patient experience survey.

The goal is straightforward: to measure and improve patients’ experience during their hospitalizations. But the HCAHPS survey, with 21 questions encompassing nine topics, is a complex tool. As a recent nursing article highlighting the body of knowledge on the patient experience makes clear, the resulting jumble of programming efforts is dauntingly complex.

Linking Patient Experience to Business Performance

Most hospitals do not have the resources to develop robust programs addressing each HCAHPS area. With that reality in mind, Healthgrades analyzed seven years of HCAHPS patient experience surveys to determine which questions were most closely associated with two desirable outcomes:

  1. An overall rating of 9 or 10 (out of 10), and
  2. Response of “Yes, I would recommend this hospital.”

Translated, these responses mean that patients were very satisfied overall with their stays at a given hospital, and would tell their friends and family to go there too. This focus allows your organization to link patient experience to hospital business performance.

Healthgrades’ analysis revealed one clear winner with the highest correlation to both of the patient responses above: “Nurses always communicated well.” The response with the lowest correlation to both ratings was “Always quiet at night.” Meanwhile, all other questions’ association with the two outcomes ratings varied over time.

It’s What I Do, Not What I Say

These findings agree with McKinsey’s comparison of responses to its 2014 Consumer Health Insights Survey (asking which factors consumers perceived to be most important in determining patient satisfaction with a hospitalization) with actual patient responses on HCAHPS surveys. McKinsey found that measures of nurse and physician empathy had the highest correlation to self-reported and actual satisfaction priorities, while quiet environment and pain management had the lowest.

In other words, if you ask patients what is most important to them, they will likely tell you that effective pain management and hotel-like amenities matter most. In reality, they will rate you based on your staff’s empathy and communication skills. So focusing on quick-fix and environmental factors won’t necessarily improve patients’ satisfaction with their hospital stay.

Addicted to Rapid Results

Ironically, a group of painkiller addiction advocates very recently blamed HCAHPS measurement of pain management for a nationwide epidemic of opioid addiction. This group believes that hospitals practice over-aggressive opioid prescription to achieve higher HCAHPS scores. But as pain management apparently isn’t a key determinant of the patient experience, it makes no sense to focus on it as a primary means to a better score.

Instead, Healthgrades found that the 2016 Healthgrades Outstanding Patient Experience Award recipients prioritize patient communication and treat patients as human beings. They also continuously monitor what patients find most important when assessing their hospitalization. These hospitals don’t assume that patient experience is static.

What is the shortcut to outstanding patient experience? Make sure your organization follows the basic tenets of human communication: ask, listen, and explain. Then repeat.

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