Category: Physician Practice
February 4 2016
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Was one of your New Year’s resolutions to improve the patient experience at your hospital or care facility? If so, I have some sobering news: a scant 8 percent of New Year’s resolutions are actually successful, which translates to a 92 percent failure rate.

According to an article in Psychology Today on why resolutions fail, “Making resolutions work involves changing behaviors—and in order to change a behavior, you have to change your thinking (or ’rewire’ your brain) …change requires creating new neural pathways from new thinking.”

The majority of resolutions fail because when we aspire to make dramatic changes, we need more than just good intentions. In order for a New Year’s resolution — or any kind of major change — to be successful, we need to dig a little deeper. We need to go beneath the surface and begin to change our mindset and our behavior at a more granular level.

Improving the patient experience and getting your patient satisfaction scores up is on everyone’s to-do list. Everyone is talking about why we need to improve patient experience, but few are really digging deeper and talking about how to do it.

Why Improve Patient Experience?

Improving the patient experience is more than just the right thing to do. There are also financial implications to consider, including the potential loss of patients, a decline in patient loyalty and intent to return, refer or give back and the loss of reimbursement dollars.

As you may know, the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) patient satisfaction survey asks questions beyond just good clinical outcomes. While roughly two-thirds of the survey questions are focused on the clinical side, nearly one-third is focused on the service side, or the patient’s perception of their experience. This includes things like noise levels, communication with providers and whether or not patients felt listened to and cared for. Most survey questions offer patients four possible responses from which to choose: never, sometimes, usually or always.

Under the Affordable Care Act, a portion of federal reimbursements are directly tied to patient satisfaction survey scores. However, here’s the bad news: you get zero credit — which means zero dollars — for ’sometimes’ answers.

The shift in health care from volume to value, along with the growing importance of HCAHPS patient satisfaction surveys, means health care CEOs and those in the C-suite need to find or develop a more effective long-term cultural solution to the challenges they face. This is a striking change from the usual programs of the month that offer prescriptive, quick fix solutions that simply teach to the test.

How To Improve Patient Experience 

So how do we improve the patient experience? And what does that really mean? Is it as simple as just being nicer to patients and convincing employees of things they need to do or say just to get our patient satisfaction scores to go up?

The old saying ’culture eats strategy for lunch’ is true. No matter what strategy or tactics you employ to move the needle on patient experience, it’s the culture — or as your employees might say ’the way we do things around here’ — that will override any temporary strategy you put forth.

Therefore, I think one of the first things we have to agree on is that improving the patient experience has to be more than just a marketing program or the new program of the month. It has to be more than a slogan or a bunch of checklists to follow. Employees are just as savvy as our patients; they can spot a well-intentioned but meaningless initiative a mile away.

To improve the patient experience over the long-term in a sustainable and meaningful way, you must involve every team member, across all lines of the patient experience, and make them the architects responsible for developing a new organizational culture.  If they develop it, they will own it and they will police it, even when you’re not around. That is the secret to delivering consistently exceptional patient experiences.

Giving your employees checklists or scripts is the equivalent of making a New Year’s resolution. It’s not a bad idea. In fact, it just might work … for the first few weeks. But come February, the odds of any real, lasting change in behavior are slim.

If you’re serious about improving the patient experience, it has to become more than just changing the things you say and the things you do. It has to become who you are as a healing organization. It has to become your aligning rallying cry, your ‘True North’ that will help you navigate your way to the benefits of a patient-driven culture. It’s simple, really. It’s just not easy. It will take a commitment of time, talent, and resources. But I promise you, the dividends you reap will be well worth it.