Improving patient experience scores is a goal for many healthcare organizations — and for good reason. Patient experience is directly tied to patient retention, reimbursement, and in many cases, better patient outcomes. As a result, many organizations continuously look for new ways to improve their patient satisfaction as efficiently and effectively as possible.
As they consider new ideas to raise patient satisfaction, healthcare leaders must have an understanding of the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scoring system that evaluates these efforts. Healthcare organizations receive scores from the HCAHPS survey, which according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is “the first national, standardized, publicly reported survey of patients’ perspectives of hospital care.”
The HCAHPS survey captures a wide range of patient experience data addressing staff responsiveness, communication practices, hospital cleanliness, and other healthcare organization metrics. The data is then tabulated to create the HCAHPS score. The financial impact of HCAHPS scores can be significant. CMS’ Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program ties Medicare reimbursements directly to organizations’ HCAHPS survey results, with better results meaning higher reimbursements.
Improving patient satisfaction in health care takes intentional, continuous efforts throughout a healthcare organization. With an in-depth understanding of the factors that affect patient satisfaction and a robust strategy for improvement, organizations can elevate their operations and boost their reputations.
Does patient satisfaction equal better health outcomes?
Researchers have studied the connection between patient experience and clinical outcomes. While some have suggested a correlation, others question the credibility of patient feedback and how it can influence physicians’ 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 might avoid asking difficult questions, such as 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 unnecessary testing as examples of healthcare professionals’ attempts to keep patients happy and avoid conflict. While this behavior may boost satisfaction ratings, it can also jeopardize quality of care.
These are important factors to keep in mind as healthcare leaders assess their HCAHPS scores and patient satisfaction tactics. The key to improving patient satisfaction scores without compromising care is an honest, open, and empathetic approach that centers patient outcomes.
How can you raise your patient satisfaction scores?
Highly effective strategies for improving patient satisfaction scores revolve around creating and sustaining an environment in which patients have a positive overall experience with all members of their care team. Healthcare leaders who want to improve HCAHPS scores can implement initiatives that reinforce these steps:
Fear often gets in the way of a patient’s ability to retain key clinical information, including important self-care instructions. Practitioners who spend a few minutes engaging with patients before beginning treatment help allay patients’ fears and establish trust. By doing this, healthcare professionals can help ensure that their patients have the best possible outcomes.
Make it personal
Healthcare professionals who maintain good eye contact with their patients — rather than looking only at their computer screens and charts — demonstrate their focus on the patient. Some practitioners choose to use a medical scribe for this reason, allowing them to be attentive to the patient while the scribe takes notes. Repeating the patient’s name also helps personalize the patient experience, as does asking questions like, “What matters to you?”
Educate the patient
Receiving a new diagnosis or update to an existing one can be frightening. Using nonmedical language and the teach-back method helps improve communication and increase a patient’s understanding of their health condition. Providing patients with written documentation that they can take home is also important and helps further alleviate feelings of confusion or unease.
No patient wants to receive care in an environment that doesn’t appear safe and sanitary. Maintaining impeccable cleanliness in all areas of the facility, 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 patients’ experience, upgrading outdated internal systems should be a priority. Even small updates to appointment scheduling platforms, waiting room signage and systems, and nurse call buttons can have a significant impact on patient satisfaction.
Punctuality demonstrates a practitioner’s respect for a patient’s time. If an organization has difficulty seeing patients in a timely manner, it may need to examine its scheduling process and/or staffing needs.
Healthcare providers can help set expectations by keeping the information on their website, patient portal, and printed materials up to date. Include an FAQ in both print and digital formats that addresses how to fill prescriptions, receive care after hours, and schedule appointments to help manage patient expectations.
Using data-driven insights to raise patient satisfaction scores
Many organizations improve their 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. Social media comments, online reviews, pulse surveys, and other feedback mechanisms help an organization gain a comprehensive understanding of their patient experience.
Through data analysis, healthcare organizations can identify patterns and trends, gain a comprehensive picture of how they are doing, and identify specific areas that require attention. A data-driven approach allows organizations to make informed decisions and implement targeted strategies to address patient concerns and enhance satisfaction.
Data also enables healthcare organizations to track their progress in improving patient satisfaction over time. By setting benchmarks and monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs), organizations can assess the impact of their initiatives and interventions. Regularly analyzing data helps healthcare leaders make data-driven adjustments to their strategies, ensuring continuous improvement in patient satisfaction scores.
In addition to identifying areas for improvement, data can also help healthcare organizations personalize the patient experience. Organizations can use data to tailor their interactions and interventions to their own patient population. Data-driven personalization can range from customized communication methods to targeted educational materials that foster a stronger patient-provider relationship and significantly improve the overall patient experience.
Supporting care teams improves patient satisfaction
While a career in healthcare can be extremely rewarding, it can also be psychological and physically taxing. According to recent reports, as many as 63% of doctors and 62% of nurses feel burned out. To provide their patients with a high level of care, healthcare professionals need to feel supported. Healthcare organizations can support their teams by doing the following:
Invest in onboarding
Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach to onboarding, organizations should customize their onboarding process to target individuals’ skill and knowledge gaps. Personalized, comprehensive onboarding increases staff satisfaction and engagement and leads to better retention and more competent care.
Encourage lifelong learning
Healthcare practices and systems are constantly evolving. To keep pace, healthcare professionals need access to comprehensive continuing education that expands their knowledge base and enables them to provide high-quality care. Developing the right clinician skill sets can boost patient satisfaction scores.
The COVID-19 pandemic made clear that medical professionals often endure a great deal of stress. If clinicians are exhausted and overwhelmed, it can be difficult for them to provide the level of care patients expect. Supporting the mental and physical health of providers is critical for a positive patient experience.
Attain your organizational objectives
Understanding how to increase patient satisfaction is a challenge that every healthcare organization must address. By equipping care teams with the skills to ensure that patients feel seen, heard, and informed, healthcare organizations 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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