How to Improve Patient Satisfaction and Experience Scores

Improving patient experience scores has become a popular topic of conversation across healthcare institutions in recent years—and for good reason. Patient experience is directly tied to patient retention, reimbursement, and, in some cases, clinical outcomes. As a result, many organizations continuously look for new ways to increase patient satisfaction scores as efficiently and effectively as possible.

In their pursuit of new ideas to increase patient satisfaction, healthcare administrators must remain acutely aware of the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scoring system used to evaluate their efforts. But what exactly are HCAHPS scores? HCAHPS scores are the scores an institution receives from the HCAHPS survey. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the HCAHPS survey is “the first national, standardized, publicly reported survey of patients’ perspectives of hospital care.”

The survey captures a wide range of patient experience data addressing staff responsiveness, communication practices, hospital cleanliness, and more within a healthcare institution. This data is then translated into an HCAHPS score for the institution assessed. The financial impact of HCAHPS scores is not to be ignored. As part of the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program, an institution’s Medicare reimbursements are directly tied to their performance on the HCAHPS survey. The better the results, the higher the reimbursement, and vice versa.

Improving patient satisfaction in healthcare takes conscious, continuous effort on behalf of every member of a healthcare institution. With an in-depth understanding of the factors that affect patient satisfaction and a robust strategy for improvement in place, organizations can transform their operations and boost their reputation.

Does Patient Satisfaction Equal Better Health?

Debate abounds over the connection between patient experience and clinical outcomes. While some studies identify a correlation, others question the credibility of patient feedback as well as the implications it can have on a physician’s behavior.

In an article published in the Journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, a group of physicians expressed concern that, in an effort to appeal to patients and increase satisfaction scores, healthcare professionals may avoid asking difficult questions like those that address a patient’s weight, drug and alcohol usage, and other lifestyle habits. The authors also cited the overprescription of drugs, unnecessary hospital admissions, and needless testing as additional examples of healthcare professionals’ attempts to keep patients happy and avoid conflict. While this behavior may boost satisfaction ratings, it can jeopardize the quality of care provided.

These are important factors to keep in mind as healthcare administrators navigate HCAHPS scores for patient satisfaction. For many, the key to improving patient satisfaction scores lies in an honest, open, and empathetic approach to care.

How Can Patient Satisfaction Be Improved?

Highly effective strategies for improving patient satisfaction scores revolve around creating an environment in which patients have a positive overall experience with all members of their medical team. Healthcare administrators wondering how to improve HCAHPS scores can follow these straightforward steps:

• Develop Rapport

Fear often gets in the way of a patient’s ability to retain key clinical information, including self-care instructions. Practitioners who spend a few minutes engaging with patients before beginning their clinical treatment help establish a sense of trust with their patients. By allaying their patients’ fears early on, these healthcare professionals ensure their patients are empowered with the information they need to take charge of their own health.

• Make it Personal

Healthcare professionals who make an effort to maintain eye contact with their patients—rather than distractedly looking at computer screens and charts—demonstrate their dedication to the patient. Some practitioners may choose to have a medical scribe in the room for this very reason, allowing them to “listen with their eyes” while the scribe takes notes. Saying a patient’s name also helps individualize and personalize the patient experience, as does asking questions like, “What matters to you?”

• Educate the Patient

Receiving a new diagnosis or an update to an existing one can be frightening. Using non-medical language and teach-back methods helps improve communication and increase a patient’s understanding of their health condition. Providing patients with written documentation that they can take home with them is also important and will help further alleviate feelings of confusion or unease.

• Ensure Cleanliness

No patient wants to receive care in an environment that doesn’t feel safe and sanitary. Practicing cleanliness in all areas of the institution, from the waiting room to the physician’s office, helps protect patients and put them at ease. It’s also one of the core areas evaluated by the HCAHPS survey.

• Upgrade Outdated Systems

When it comes to improving the patient experience, upgrading outdated internal systems is key. Even small updates to appointment scheduling platforms, waiting room signage and systems, and nurse call buttons can have a significant impact on patient satisfaction.

• Be Punctual

Punctuality demonstrates a practitioner’s respect for a patient’s busy schedule. If an organization is having difficulty seeing patients in a timely manner, they may need to examine their scheduling process and/or staffing needs.

• Set Expectations

Healthcare providers can help set expectations by keeping all the information on their website, patient portal, and printed collateral up to date at all times. Including an FAQ section on printed and digital material that addresses how to refill prescriptions, receive care after hours, and schedule appointments also plays an important part in aligning patients’ expectations with their experiences.

• Listen

Many organizations wonder how to improve patient satisfaction and experience scores by using data. The best way to do so is to examine data from a range of sources—including the HCAHPS survey—to reveal the real voice of the patient. Social media comments, online reviews, pulse surveys, and more all help an organization gain a comprehensive understanding of the patient experience.

Supporting Care Teams to Improve Patient Satisfaction

While a career in healthcare can be extremely rewarding, it can also be psychological and physically taxing. According to recent reports, 51% of doctors and 41% of nurses feel burned out and unengaged. To provide their patients with a high level of care, healthcare professionals need to feel supported. Healthcare organizations can support their teams by:

• Investing in Onboarding

Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach to onboarding, organizations should customize their onboarding process to support each individual’s skills and knowledge gaps. Personalized, comprehensive onboarding increases staff satisfaction and engagement and leads to better retention and more competent care.

• Encouraging Lifelong Learning

Healthcare practices and systems are constantly evolving. To keep pace, healthcare professionals need access to comprehensive continuing education courses that expand their knowledge base and improve their ability to provide high-quality care. With the right skill-sets, practitioners can help boost patient satisfaction scores.

• Consider Stressors

The COVID-19 pandemic has made recognizing and acknowledging the stress that medical professionals experience more important than ever before. If care practitioners feel overwhelmed or inadequate, it can be difficult for them to provide the level of care patients have come to expect. Supporting the mental and physical health of providers is critical for maintaining a positive patient experience at all times.

Attain Your Organizational Objectives

Understanding how to increase patient satisfaction is a challenge that every healthcare organization must address. By designing care teams equipped with the skills to ensure patients feel seen, heard, and informed, healthcare institutions across the country can help ensure their HCAHPS scores reflect the level of high-quality care they provide.

Learn how Relias can help you leverage operational and clinical data to discover new ways to improve patient satisfaction scores and comply with value-based care requirements.

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Natalie Vaughn

Content Marketing Manager, Relias

Natalie is a Content Marketing Manager at Relias. She has worked in marketing and communications for more than 15 years, with more than half of her experience dedicated to healthcare quality improvement. At Relias, she partners with physicians, nurses, curriculum designers, writers, and other staff members to shape healthcare content designed to improve clinical practice, staff expertise, and patient outcomes. Natalie obtained a Master of Business Administration degree with a focus in marketing, driven by a passion for understanding consumer behavior, branding strategies, and leveraging thought leaders as innovators within a given industry.

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