What has been the most satisfying experience you’ve had recently? Perhaps it was a much-deserved vacation cruise or an intimate evening of fine dining at your favorite restaurant. One experience that is unlikely to make the list, however, is a hospital stay. After all, the circumstances that bring a patient to the hospital are often stressful and certainly not eagerly awaited experiences. Yet, hospitals’ reputations—and finances—can rise or fall based on the results of HCAHPS patient satisfaction surveys. Could something as low-tech as improved communication with patients actually be the disruptive innovation that can drive improved satisfaction numbers across healthcare providers?
Is There a Solution to the Patient Satisfaction Conundrum?
Earlier this year, the government even began converting patient feedback into a consumer-friendly, five-star rating for hospitals. Healthcare providers contend the new rating system oversimplifies complicated situations. According to Kaiser Health News (KHN), patient satisfaction has improved nationally, but as a spokesperson for Press Ganey, which conducts patient satisfaction surveys for hospitals, said, “For the most part, the organizations that are doing really wonderfully now were doing well five years ago. The high performers tend to continue to be the high performers and the low performers tend to be low performers.”
So, what are some hospitals doing right, and how can lower-performing hospitals replicate those innovations to drive success?
University of Missouri Health System
The university system uses paid actors in a live simulation center at its medical school to practice hearing what patients need—and it’s not a diagnosis. For example, says KHN, the scenario might involve a dispute with a mother or spouse who is angry at a doctor’s late arrival to an appointment. The idea is that by listening to patients, even when it comes to non-medical issues, healthcare providers better understand what contributes to stress—and lower scores—in patient interaction. This enables providers to show greater empathy for the emotional situations that surround the patient experience. The simulation center works, slowly but surely increasing the satisfaction rating around patient-doctor communication by 10 percent over 7 years.
Virginia Hospital Center
Rigorous screening of nurses and other staffers has helped the Arlington, Virginia center bump up its patient satisfaction ratings. Potential employees are required to pass a behavioral screening test before an interview session with other staff members they may work with. If those staffers do not endorse the recruit, no job offer ensues. By considering empathy and listening skills as part of the hiring process, the hospital ensures that it brings in nurses and other hospital workers who will deliver positive experiences even under difficult circumstances.
Johns Hopkins Hospital
At Johns Hopkins, a pilot program to reduce preventable harm in the surgical intensive care unit looks to redefine harm to include not only medical complications, but also loss of dignity and respect. Though not something you might expect in the intense atmosphere of an ICU, a digital questionnaire digs into a patient’s fears about hospitalization, as well as sources of joy or strength. This enables the hospital to offer more comprehensive, empathetic care—and leads to a more positive outcome in terms of patient safety and satisfaction. As veteran healthcare quality advocate and director of Johns Hopkin’s Institute for Patient Safety and Quality, Peter Pronovost, said, “Respecting me [as a patient] is treating me like a human being and knowing what I value and what I care about.”
Bad Reviews Can Do Damage after the Problem Is Solved.
Living down a poor reputation can be frustrating, however, because bad opinions tend to linger. At Rowan Medical Center, part of the Novant network of healthcare facilities, perpetually low scores have nagged the hospital. While others in the network have excellent ratings, Rowan has struggled.
Among the changes being made, doctors and nurses are coached to improve eye contact with patients, who often perceive the caregiver is more focused on a computer screen than the patient. ER waits are down to a half hour after replacing the physician group that had been running the ER. Other small improvements, like white boards where notes are written about patients—like who is a dog owner—enable doctors and nurses to have more personal, friendly conversations that lead to better patient experiences. Time will tell if these efforts have a positive impact, but patients are already remarking on the difference. Unfortunately, those new opinions will not prevent the hospital from losing $29,000 due to past low scores.
Healthcare Consumer Insights Can Power Increased Satisfaction
When I was still working at P&G in healthcare marketing, my team conducted extensive market research on healthcare consumer attitudes, motivations and behaviors. Working with the Cleveland Clinic and Healthcare Partners (Los Angeles), we were able to predict whether a physician had high or low patient satisfaction scores based on how they answered some simple questions. At the heart of the questions is how the physician interacts with his/her patients.
We turned this into a Physician Interview Tool, with which a healthcare organization could identify physician candidates who most likely garner excellent patient satisfaction scores with a high level of confidence. c2b solutions acquired the rights to the Physician Interview Tool and now offers it to healthcare organizations.
While it may not feel like the most disruptive innovation in healthcare, communication clearly plays an important role in patient satisfaction.
Rightly or wrongly, a patient with diabetic neuropathy that impairs walking may “blame” the healthcare provider. Maybe it was because the link between poorly-controlled blood sugars and long-term negative health impacts came off as a lecture, which the patient tuned out. Imagine how the patient satisfaction score—and the patient’s health outcome—might improve if, instead, the doctor engaged that same patient in a conversation about favorite activities and then tied proactive diabetes management to the enjoyment of those activities.
If you slow down to listen, what will you learn?