The rise of healthcare consumerism—and a reform-driven focus on patient satisfaction—has led inevitable comparisons between hospitals and retailers. Many healthcare providers are adopting tactics that have helped companies like Amazon, Apple and Disney win top marks from customers. In fact, in 2011, the Disney Institute debuted a professional development program called “Building a Culture of Healthcare Excellence” just as hospitals were to begin publically reporting HCAHPS scores.
Creating experiences that delight patients represents one aspect of transforming healthcare, and driving measurable standardization for comparisons among providers is important. However, in the rush to boost HCAHPS scores and compete more effectively, hospitals may be focusing so much on patient satisfaction measures that the aspects of patient engagement that drive patient activation go overlooked.
Focus on Patient Satisfaction Isn’t New
While the prospect of incurring penalties for low patient satisfaction may be spurring today’s patient satisfaction initiatives, the concept is not foreign to the healthcare industry.
Gerard van Grinsven, the current president and CEO of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, was originally drafted to the healthcare arena back in 2006. At that time, the Henry Ford Health System’s CEO, Nancy M. Schlichting, lured him away from the Ritz-Carton Group to run its new hospital, Henry Ford West Bloomfield. Schlichting announced the hire in a press release, saying “Our long-term vision is to be known for service excellence both inside and outside our industry. To achieve that, we knew we needed to bring into our organization someone who would bring that kind of passion for service to Henry Ford Health System—someone who would help us to become known as ‘The Ritz-Carlton’ of healthcare.”
In the interim, many hospitals have adopted this 4-star hotel approach. Healthcare consumerism means more competition to capture patients, and a beautiful hospital design and great amenities can have a positive effect. John Romley, an economist at the University of Southern California, studied how Medicare patients with pneumonia selected a hospital for their own care. Romley told The Post and Courier, “We found quality of care matters—not surprisingly—but that amenities were a bigger drive of where people ended up receiving their care.”
Romley noted that this was a trend across the country. But could a laser focus on patient satisfaction be leading to problems?
What Good are Satisfied—But Disengaged—Patients?
Since Medicare began tying reimbursements to Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores, patient satisfaction has become an even greater financial priority. Based on these scores, hospitals stand to lose or gain a percentage of their Medicare payments—and that percentage is increasing. One percent, even two percent, doesn’t sound like a lot, but it amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenues.
Unfortunately, patient satisfaction does not automatically lead to the patient activation needed to drive better health outcomes. In fact, according to a recent article in The Atlantic, the emphasis on patient satisfaction may actually be causing harm.
The article cites a national study, which found that satisfied patients often had higher healthcare and medication costs and were significantly more likely to die within four years than their less satisfied counterparts. Why? University of California, Davis professor Joshua Fenton, who led the study, suggests that the desire to satisfy patients leaves physicians less willing to have hard conversations with patients about poor health habits or talk them out of unnecessary treatments -- a focus “on smiles over substance,” as it were.
In addition to addressing the patient experience, hospitals and other healthcare providers need to improve patient engagement. A spa-like atmosphere may not engage patients in their own care. Hospitals need to go beyond a generic, albeit glossy, approach to patients to connect with them in meaningful ways to drive health and wellness.
One of the best ways to make these types of connections is to customize patient communications to reach the right audience, with the right message, via the right channel, and to craft patient experiences based on their priorities and preferences.
To do this, hospitals require greater insights into what motivates patients. The proprietary psychographic segmentation model developed by c2b solutions helps healthcare providers understand the deep-set beliefs and attitudes that can influence patient engagement. That way, in addition to cultivating happy patients, hospitals can also ensure they’re healthier, too, by appealing to the activation triggers of different patient types.