• More hospitals than ever before are recognizing the imperative of creating better patient satisfaction in their institutions.  While the Affordable Care Act has enforced a “pay for performance” environment through its HCAHPS Survey program, many healthcare administrators and their care-giving teams also see that their patient/customers are demanding a better experience on the road to improved health. From an organizational viewpoint, estimates show many more hospitals now have named Chief Experience Officers to their senior leadership team.  In addition many more have department heads and middle managers whose primary responsibility is to create a better experience for their patients.  How they have identified their solutions covers a broad pallet. A good number of hospitals have improved or increased the amenities they offer.  Some have raised the caliber of food served to their patients.  Others have re-designed their facilities for more convenience or better aesthetic appearance.  Additional services such as valet parking, more television channels, and expanded visiting hours are just some examples of this enhanced awareness.  And, of course, quicker processing of both in-patients and out-patients remains a popular way to eliminate dissatisfaction.  Once some of these new solutions have been implemented, a comprehensive marketing program is utilized to spread the news. All of the above tactics play a role in improving the patient experience.  As I have previously stated, patients must be treated like the valued customers they are.  But we can’t neglect the core of a successful patient satisfaction program – excellent communication.  Of the 22 non-demographic questions on the HCAHPS survey, the overwhelming majority are directly related to how surveyed patients perceived the quality of communication from their hospital caregivers.  It has been my experience that doctors, nurses and other hospital staff often think they are performing well in this area when in fact they have much room for improvement. How can hospitals be sure they will achieve the best results for their efforts?  Training to develop better communication techniques must be given to all individuals who interact with patients, not just a few.  And every level of the management team must embrace the desire for improvement.  A realistic, initial goal would be to raise poor communicators to become average-to-good performers while taking average communicators to the exceptional level.  It is not that difficult of a task as long as there is a commitment to become better by using proven techniques.     

    Dr. Doug Finefrock is a leading national specialist in improving the Patient Experience and HCAHPS scores.  His Patient SET™ Program "Satisfaction Every Time" with The Sullivan Group includes physician CME and nursing CE online video courses that provide scalable communication training for healthcare workers.