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Patient Satisfaction Scores:
Surefire Strategies for Improvement

In 2004, the federal government began collecting information on how often hospitals performed certain widely accepted treatments and tests for a set of common conditions, such as heart attacks and pneumonia. In 2005, they began publishing the data online on the Hospital Compare Website. Building upon this model, the federal government most recently began collecting patient satisfaction data and has been posting the results to this same Website.

Although hospitals have collected patient satisfaction information for years, they must now address this information being made public. It’s a sore subject to many, as some hospitals feel that this information is a bit skewed. For example, a patient may be admitted after waiting in an extremely busy ED for hours. When he is finally seen by healthcare professionals, he and his family are in a foul mood. While the patient was treated with top-notch care and professionalism, he still gives the hospital a negative rating on his patient satisfaction form. These kinds of situations certainly present a legitimate disconnect between satisfaction scores and actual performance; however, experts say it’s no time to sit on the sidelines and pout.

As imperfect as patient satisfaction scoring may be, it’s a measurement—and potential marketing tool—that hospitals should take very seriously. Furthermore, failure to acknowledge patient satisfaction scores can have immediate financial repercussions. Medicare is a good example. Hospitals that don’t voluntarily participate in the public reporting initiative don’t receive their full Medicare reimbursement.

Simple Strategies to Improve Scores

Improving and focusing on patient satisfaction scores should undoubtedly be a priority for hospitals. The good news is that there is plenty you can do. Some hospitals have gone as far as to hire hospitalists whose main responsibilities remain on enhancing the patient’s experience; ensuring proper and smooth admittance, treatment, and discharge. If it’s within your hospital’s means to add such staff, this is an excellent approach. However, there are several simple strategies hospital staff (at all levels) can employ to improve scores.

Below are seven straightforward strategies.

Be clear and concise every time

With all of the people entering a patient’s room, it can be easy to mix up doctors, nurses, and other caregivers. Further, a patient may feel as if their room is like a revolving door, and become tired and confused with the various healthcare staff who visits. This is where (again) scores can become skewed; as constant interaction and care are indicators of good performance. However, because a patient may feel confused and irritated with the number of staff, he/she could leave a low score after discharge.

Healthcare staff can address this by making sure they clearly introduce themselves and explain their role in the healthcare continuum. It’s also critical to explain the reason and goals of the visit. (i.e., “I’m here to take your vitals. Our goal is to maintain a clear picture of your baseline readings, so we can get an accurate gauge on what’s normal for you. It will only take two minutes.”) This way, the patient is clear on the reason and importance of the visit.

Steer clear of jargon, but don’t patronize

Prepare for a patient visit by familiarizing with any information you will cover with the patient, and more importantly communicate in laypersons’ terms that the patient will understand. Just also be careful not to patronize the patient. Chances are, they are educated, smart, and savvy; they just aren’t around medical terms and acronyms all day like you are. If you speak to them as if they are slow and uneducated, they will quickly notice and be irritated by it.

Engrain customer service into the forefront of everyone’s minds

If healthcare management is continuously harping on customer service, the rest of the staff will by default have it on the forefront of their minds. Raise customer service issues up at staff meetings, and create internal communication campaigns highlighting different customer service topics and techniques. Even if certain employees aren’t in positions that involve frequent contact with patients, it’s still important to cover the importance of patient satisfaction and customer service. Such an approach will let everyone clearly know how seriously the hospital takes customer service. This, in turn, should have a positive impact on surveys.

Switch it up

Some hospitals have implemented "nurse rounding," which involves having nurses visit new patients to see if they’re getting everything they need and to troubleshoot any problems. Some patients may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable asking or telling their current nurse something (i.e., a male patient may feel awkward asking a female nurse something). So switching it up is a great way a hospital can offer patients that extra level of care and service. Chances are that the patient will be grateful for the extra attention.

Pay attention to details

Evaluate the factors that help provide a comfortable and restful environment for your patients. Does sound carry easily down the halls? Is it always noisy? Consider tasking designated team members with keeping environmental factors in check. Other hospitals have implemented systems in which signs are placed strategically around nurses’ stations. When the signs change colors it alerts staff that the noise volume has risen too high. Other signs around the hospital can remind visitors to keep noise levels down. This type of attention to detail can be the difference between a great survey and a scathing one.

Be upfront and honest

Before a patient is discharged, it’s a great idea to explain that the patient may be asked to fill out a satisfaction survey. Don’t be afraid to come right out and ask for an excellent score if the patient was satisfied. If a patient expresses dissatisfaction, you should ask whether there’s anything that would help improve the experience and remedy the situation if possible.

Follow up

You may want to consider instituting follow-up calls to patients to make sure the transition home was smooth. Implementing this “transition of care” call to patients following discharge shows the patient you really care about their health and well-being and don’t view them as just another warm body filling a bed.

These calls can also provide an opportunity to ask specific satisfaction questions. The staff member making the calls should record this information and pass the feedback on to the rest of the staff. This is a great way to discover what staff is doing right and what needs improvement when it comes to customer service.

Parting Thoughts

Although many healthcare professionals have voiced their concerns over the current survey system, hospitals must provide leadership and constantly work to address satisfaction issues. Improving satisfaction scores doesn’t necessarily require a large investment of time and resources. In many cases (as outlined in the tips above) making improvements can be done in a simple and straightforward manner. Indeed, making small changes can have a big impact on your scores!