No one enjoys being in the hospital. But when the staff is able to make a patient’s stay just a bit more pleasant, hospitals want to know so they can spread the word.
Last month, HCAHPS rolled out its new five-star quality ratings for hospitals. It rates facilities on 11 categories of patient satisfaction. Medicare (CMS) displays the ratings on its own website, as well as its Hospital Compare site.
Compiling statistics on patient satisfaction is nothing new for HCAHPS. They created the star-ratings to help consumers make an informed choice about healthcare facilities.
But CNN reports many industry experts fear that the new ratings place too much emphasis on patient reviews. In doing so, they ignore important factors like safety and clinical outcomes. Further, HCAHPS mails out surveys after patients return home, so results suffer from “rear-view-mirror syndrome.”
How can hospitals get reliable, timely feedback on patient experience and avoid getting a low rating?
The trouble is in the stars
There’s nothing wrong with having a star-rating system. Consumers see them on everything from merchants and products, to hotels and restaurants. It’s convenient and easy to understand without having to compare figures, percentages and graphs.
Star-ratings may make it easier to pick a hotel, but they don’t reflect the subtle variances of hospitals. For example, Hospital A might rate 59.9% satisfaction in cleanliness, where Hospital B has 60.0%. The first gets 3 stars, the second gets 4.
A lower star rating can result in lower admissions and reduced Medicare reimbursements – a costly thing for hospitals.
The only way hospitals can combat the bias is to keep their patient satisfaction as high as possible. But how?
Taking things in hand
Hospitals can’t change the way CMS rolls out the new rating system, but they can avoid negative feedback before it happens.
First, the data is timely, since the experience is foremost in the patient’s mind. The patient (or caregiver) doesn’t have to stop and remember specifics. Were the nurses attentive? How often did the doctor visit? How clean were the floors?
Second, the surveys are customizable. While the CMS surveys are comprehensive, a hospital can focus its own survey on specific areas of improvement.
Third and perhaps most important, the feedback is immediate. The hospital receives the response reports in real time so staff can spot problems – and even resolve them – before the patient leaves the hospital.
When a patient feels their issues are addressed right away, they are less likely to voice grievances when taking the CMS survey.
Tracking every patient’s experience
Full-featured digital survey apps like Check Point provide hospitals another valuable benefit. They can connect detailed context information to each patient’s responses.
HCAHPS surveys are tied to a particular patient’s stay. But there’s no way to link those responses to the conditions present during the respondent’s stay.
With Check Point, management can add survey questions, such as name of doctors, nurses, room number and treatment. The attending staff enters this information before a patient takes the survey. These data points are crucial to understanding why the patient answered they way they did.
The hospital then correlates each patient’s responses with its staff and treatment received. This allows for the identification of stellar performers, as well as those needing improvement.
Most importantly, with instant pages for negative responses, management gets the chance to address any dissatisfaction before the patient leaves. Patients who feel their issues are resolved are more likely to give high ratings on the HVAHPS survey.
Working towards a five-star rating
HCAHPS intends its five-star ratings to simplify comparison of consumers’ hospital options. While this provides a simpler ranking, it might also weight patient reviews over actual results. This means even reputable hospitals can receive a less-than-stellar score.
Hospitals can avoid poor HCAHPS ratings by conducting their own patient surveys. Digital surveys give the staff immediate feedback so they can resolve both patient and staff issues right away.
And that means more stars from the start.
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Michelle Strong is chief marketing officer at LRS and an advocate for meaningful customer engagement.