4 Strategies to Improve Patient Satisfaction — and Profitability

CMS' Value-Based Purchasing program began in October, and with it, patient satisfaction became exponentially more important.

When VBP started this past fall, CMS withheld 1 percent of all hospital Medicare reimbursements to fund the program. Hospitals that perform well in quality of care and patient satisfaction measures will receive bigger chucks of total hospital reimbursement in 2013. More specifically, patient satisfaction — as measured by CMS' Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems — represents 30 percent of the weighted total for the reimbursement, while process of care measures make up the other 70 percent.

Because patient satisfaction is now partially tied into Medicare reimbursement, how a patient feels about his or her experience at the hospital now directly impacts the bottom line. Sue Sutton, RN, PhD, CEO of Tower, a patient experience consulting firm, says hospitals need to stay ahead of this curve as consumerism melds with the healthcare sector at large.

"Consumers today want to schedule appointments, access their medical records, pay bills and communicate with their physicians and other care team members online," Dr. Sutton says. "This is today's minimum."

She recommends the following four strategies to improve patient satisfaction and, consequentially, profitability.

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1. Provide online tools so patients can better manage their care
. Hospitals know they must go digital in several regards, most notably with electronic health records, but their online footprint must extend further than that, Dr. Sutton says.

Patients want to manage their healthcare just like they manage their bank account, virtual shopping carts and other areas of life that now involve the convenience of a computer screen and the click of a mouse. Hospitals need to ensure they have online tools in each step of the patient experience:

•   Preadmission. "For example, hospitals should explain consents, identify patient preferences, collect information, estimate share of costs, etc.," Dr. Sutton says.

•    Treatment. Patients should have access to hospital social networks (e.g., Twitter and Facebook) for education and support for any future or current treatments.

•    Post-discharge. Once patients leave the hospital, staff must relay timely and relevant education content, reminders and monitoring through emails and other online tools.

•    Clinical. Some patients may not understand the clinical reasons behind their healthcare issues, but hospitals should still make an attempt to educate them through "interactive and dynamic" instructional resources to prepare those patients for discharge.

•    Financial. If a patient is coming in for an elective surgery, he or she should have a good idea of their medical costs before they walk into the hospital, she says.

2. Tie everything together so the process is personalized and seamless for the patient. Popular consumer sites like Amazon are successful due to their convenience, but they also give consumers a personalized feel. Hospitals need to find that personalization in order to connect the "physical experience to the virtual experience," Dr. Sutton says. Hospitals must try to do the same through enhanced web design and a concerted effort to make their patient interfaces friendly.

3. Make it easy for patients to navigate and find information. Before hospitals can offer personalized virtual processes and helpful online tools, they have to make sure the patient knows where their data can be accessed, Dr. Sutton says. Establishing a separate patient access website and directing patients to the website at every level of interaction may be something to keep in mind.

4. Apply information, data and technologies to solve issues across the hospital's care and business models. Patient experience issues often parallel other issues in a hospital. For example, if patients are unhappy with the cleanliness of their room, which impacts patient satisfaction scores, there could be an issue with cleaning staff and clinicians. Hospitals should take advantage of patient feedback to see where other potential problems lie in their organizations.

"Recognize opportunities to improve patient safety, minimize risks, increase utilization, improve collections, increase productivity and communicate with hard-to-reach and low health literacy populations," Dr. Sutton says.

Dr. Sutton explains these strategies may have seemed trivial years ago. However, with VBP in full force, hospitals can no longer afford to not interact with their patients in these ways.

"These innovative opportunities are strategies needed to remain competitive and relevant in the future," she adds.

More Articles on Hospital Profitability:

How to Create Sustainable Hospital Financial Improvement: 3 Steps

How Aspen Valley Hospital Increased Days Cash on Hand More Than 100-Fold

11 Ways Hospitals and Health Systems Can Increase Profitability in 2013

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