May 25, 2016
A positive patient experience sounds like a good idea for any organization. But from a care quality perspective, should you care about patient experience scores?
Last month we revealed new Healthgrades research on patient experience. Our 2016 study uncovered the most important aspect of their experiences for patients themselves, and for business performance: nurse communication. New research now links patient experience—and especially good communication—to better clinical outcomes as well.
Should You Prioritize Experience or Outcomes?
Patient experience has been a source of controversy among healthcare experts. Some believe that it is not a measure of quality, and is in fact not related to quality at all. This group holds that as laypeople, patients cannot distinguish between interpersonal skills and clinical competence. Another view is that highly satisfied patients are in fact over-utilizers. One study revealed that higher satisfaction was associated with greater inpatient use and larger overall healthcare and prescription drug costs.
But it turns out that providing a positive patient experience may boost your clinical outcomes. A systematic review found that patient experience is associated with clinical effectiveness and patient safety. New research expands on that finding. After reviewing CMS data from over 3,000 hospitals, investigators found that a better patient experience was associated with lower rates of many in-hospital complications (especially joint replacement complications and hospital-acquired infections) and 30-day readmissions. That means patient experience is closely related to better outcomes.
Understand Why Communication Matters
Why are patient experience and outcomes related? One hypothesis is that greater engagement and trust increases care plan compliance. Also, perhaps hospitals that value a good patient experience also pay close attention to other aspects of care quality. Both of these attributes can affect your financial health, as satisfied and compliant patients will seek ongoing care specifically from your organization. You reap the benefits of happy patients who return again and again.
How do you engage patients? A recurring theme in the study’s patient satisfaction data was good provider communication. This finding agrees with new Healthgrades research that indicates good nurse communication is most closely associated with overall patient satisfaction.
Identify Communication Opportunities
To provide the most comprehensive and effective communication with patients, you must go beyond the walls of your hospital. Once patients are discharged, keep communicating via email, text, or postal mail. Send reminders about upcoming appointments, and provide patients with contact information to help with questions or issues as they arise. Between doctor’s appointments, remind patients about the care steps that will optimize their outcomes and provide them with condition-specific education.
These steps allow you to cost-effectively build trust and keep patients engaged in their care. So you can consistently communicate with your patients, even with limited resources.
Should you care about patient experience scores? If you value high-quality care, the answer is yes.