Patient Satisfaction and the Human Side of Health Care

Nurse talking with senior male patient in hospital bed.

It’s a given that hospitals value patient safety. But what about patient satisfaction? Providing positive patient experiences is now a top strategic priority among hospitals in the United States, according to a report by the Vocera Experience Innovation Network. Understanding the context of patient satisfaction is crucial for the success of health care leaders seeking to improve their operations.

Assessing the Quality of Care

The standard method for hospitals to assess their quality of care is the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey. Provided to patients at the end of their care experience, the survey’s purpose is to offer a metric of care that is both standardized and publicly available. First designed around the turn of the 21st century, the survey was developed through an extensive process of testing, consumer focus groups, literature and cognitive reviews, and field tests. Composed of 32 questions, the survey covers nine key topics:

  • Communication with doctors
  • Communication with nurses
  • Responsiveness of hospital staff
  • Pain management
  • Communication about medicines
  • Discharge information
  • Cleanliness of the hospital environment
  • Quietness of the hospital environment
  • Transition of care

The HCAHPS survey is not just useful for assessing care. According to API Healthcare, 25 percent of hospitals with the highest HCAHPS scores were also the most profitable. Ultimately, the survey offers valuable data regarding the strengths and weaknesses of health care operations and provides leaders with insight as to how to improve.

Improving Patient Satisfaction

For the HCAHPS survey to prove meaningful, health care providers must be willing to act on the data they obtain. The benefits of patient satisfaction are many. Some include:

  • Healthier patients and better health outcomes
  • Patient retention
  • Improvement in organizational reputation
  • Successful relationships with accreditation and regulatory agencies
  • Reduced business costs

For patient satisfaction to effectively improve, hospital leaders must actively work to encourage a collective culture of engagement within their organizations. There are a number of ways to do this.

Encourage Physician Empathy

A study done at Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Orthopaedic Surgery demonstrated that out of 112 new patients, 65 percent of patient satisfaction was attributed to physician empathy. By engaging in activities such as offering a quality bedside manner, asking open-ended questions, demonstrating face-to-face engagement and actively listening to concerns, doctors were able to make their patients feel personally cared for. Institutions looking to improve patient satisfaction can train their physicians to adopt similar behavior.

Understand Patient Needs

A gap often exists between what health care providers believe their patients want and what the patients actually value. Dr. James Merlino, who served as chief experience officer of the Cleveland Clinic, lists several elements that have statistically been found as the most and least important to patients:

Most Important

  • Caring staff
  • Doctors concerned about patient comfort
  • Doctors explained things
  • Information for self-care at home
  • Doctors kept patients informed
  • Nurses kept patients informed

Least Important

  • Wait time of staff notice
  • Courtesy taking insurance
  • Easy to provide insurance
  • Waiting area comfort
  • Radiology staff courtesy
  • Personal insurance privacy

Merlino explains that perceived reasons for dissatisfaction and actual reasons can be different. For example, hospital administrators may believe that patient dissatisfaction stems mainly from long wait times. In actuality, patients may not always feel respected by staff. Using the results of the HCAHPS survey, health care leaders are able to discover data-backed reasons for patient dissatisfaction and change their practices accordingly.

Improve the Quality of Employee Work Life

It’s often the case that when employees aren’t happy in their jobs, their work performance suffers. In the health care industry, this tendency can have extraordinarily negative consequences. Improving the quality of employees’ work life is crucial. Health Catalyst recommends creating a company culture that emphasizes teamwork, accountability and speaking up when things go wrong.

Hospitals can improve the quality of work life in a number of ways, according to the Journal of Hospital Administration:

  • Encouraging work/life balance
  • Offering professional growth opportunities
  • Teaching effective stress reduction and coping skills
  • Providing an adequate support structure in the workplace

For hospital administrators, improving the quality of employee work life also means specifically hiring more staff and effectively managing overtime. Did you know …

  • Nurses who work 13+ hours are 2.7 more times likely to be burnt out, 2.38 times more likely to be dissatisfied with their jobs and 2.57 more times likely to leave their job in the next year than nurses who work eight to nine hours.
  • Patients reported lower satisfaction levels when higher proportions of nurses worked shifts longer than 13 hours.
  • For every 10 percent of nurses reporting job dissatisfaction, the likelihood of patients recommending the hospital decreases by 2 percent.

Ultimately, employee satisfaction and patient satisfaction are intertwined, and hospital administrators must approach the problem with this context in order to be successful.

Provide Educational Resources for Patients

Patients want to be as informed about their health as possible. Hospitals and health care providers should seek to provide accessible health resources. According to Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare, this might mean:

  • Creating or distributing “consumer-level content.” This content is usually written on a fifth to seventh grade reading level and uses short sentences, bulleted statements and illustrations where necessary.
  • Offering large print materials for patients who are visually impaired.
  • Providing content in a variety of digital formats.
  • Providing additional training to hospital staff members to ensure they understand how to educate patients.

When patients receive educational materials, they feel more involved in their treatment. Taking this approach — treating patients as invested, active participants in their own care as opposed to passive ones who must be “fixed” — is perhaps the best to consider when attempting to improve the quality of patient care. In other words, treat patients as people.

A Successful Hospital Management Career

For those considering the field of health care management, earning the right credentials can make all the difference when it comes to career advancement. The online master’s in health care administration from Point Park University provides the training needed to succeed in this growing field. Offered fully online, the program can be completed in as little as two years. The program was rated one of the Top Online Master’s in Healthcare Management Programs by TheBestColleges.org.

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