When people are sick or injured, they aren’t only looking for doctors and nurses to tend to their medical needs. Usually, they expect something more, whether it’s hospital food or simply a doctor pulling up a chair to talk for a few minutes.
In other words, medical care is not just about medical treatment; it’s about the entire patient experience. Hospitals are getting this message now because it’s hitting them in the wallet, thanks to the new Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), or “H-Caps” for short.
Under new regulations in the Affordable Care Act, hospitals are required to send in at least 100 of these randomly conducted surveys from discharged patients each year. Medicare evaluates the scores and uses a baseline to determine which hospitals earned satisfactory scores and which did not. Using that information, Medicare will adjust payments to the hospital accordingly. The lower the score, the lower the reimbursement.
As we wrote here last week, silent paging systems are one way to improve patient satisfaction and Medicare scores. But what if hospitals also could monitor patient perceptions in real time, long before Medicare weighs in?
Low Scores Serve as Wake-Up Call
Medicare has actually used the same 27-question survey since 2006, but 2012 was the first year performance affected reimbursement. The questionnaire is meant to cover all areas of the healthcare experience, from how well hospital staff treated a patient’s pain to how often nurses checked on the patient and whether the halls were quiet at night.
Medicare used results from previous surveys to establish a baseline before calculating scores in 2012. Hospitals that scored even 1 percentage point below the national baseline received smaller reimbursements from Medicare.
The problem with this system is that some hospitals have an immediate advantage over others. Newer equipment, number of employees, even location can make a huge difference in patient perception. This means that some hospitals will have to make more changes than others to achieve satisfactory scores. But it can be difficult to zero in on exactly what affects patient perception the most or identify what’s bothering them.
How Hospitals Can Take Action
Hospitals don’t have to settle for sending out surveys and waiting months to learn whether or not they will receive a reduced payment. Instead, they can use electronic surveys to evaluate patients’ experience before they even leave the hospital. Tablet-based surveys also have been shown to have a response rate of 80 percent or more – far exceeding mail or web-based surveys.
LRS offers a digital survey that can be individually customized to the needs of each medical facility, be it a small clinic or a large public hospital. Facilities can even use the same questions from the H-Caps survey to get a more realistic idea of how they’ll perform in the actual Medicare surveys. The LRS Survey Tool provides users with instant results, which means hospital executives can evaluate responses and make changes immediately if they see a trend of negative responses. And, the survey questions can also be changed daily, allowing organizations to drill down on problem areas while eliminating areas where there are no issues.
As with any attempt to gather data, the goal of collecting digital customer surveys is visibility, in this case visibility of patient perspectives. These days, that’s more valuable than ever.
This new pay-for-performance system could end up costing hospitals a considerable amount in Medicare reimbursements if they don’t take action to improve the patient experience. Using surveys that can be evaluated and changed on the fly is a great way of ensuring all the necessary information is in hand before it’s too late.
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Jason Barge is a marketing manager at LRS and an expert in communications for the hospitality industry.