4 Best Practices for Improving Patient Satisfaction in Your Hospital

Marshall | Steele is a physician-led healthcare services firm in Chicago, Ill., that helps hospitals implement a patient-centric care model and improve patient satisfaction. Marshall Steele, MD, and vice president Matthew Reigle share four ways the firm achieves success for its hospitals: by focusing on patient satisfaction, sending a consistent message, measuring progress and soliciting feedback.

1. Focus on the patient's experience. Hospitals need to restructure the traditional hospital model, in which the care process is seen from the physician or nurse's perspective, says Dr. Steele. Instead, the process should focus on the patient's experience. In order to tailor each step of a hospital visit to the patient, Marshall | Steele has created the "patient-centric model," a model made up of eight elements, from community education to pre-operative care to outcomes management. According to Dr. Steele, the process begins with community education, when a patient responds to a physical problem by seeking advice and information from his community. The patient then sees a primary care physician and a specialist, prepares for surgery, goes through surgery and experiences post-operative care. By thinking about each step of the surgical process from the patient's perspective, hospitals can better understand the fears, anxieties, and desires associated with each step and work to improve the patient experience.

Using the patient-centric care model, hospitals can focus heavily on patient education and family involvement. When the patient first sees a specialist, the specialist has a great opportunity to educate the patient with different tools, including manuals, videos and lists such as "Top Things to do for Arthritis Pain." When the physician decides that surgery is the best option, Dr. Steele says the hospital should endeavor to involve family members as much as possible by making them "part of the care team." By educating family members, giving them tasks and asking them to complete a checklist before the patient is released, Dr. Steele says a hospital can improve post-operative care and increase the likelihood of a fast, easy recovery.

2. Create a consistent message. According to Dr. Steele, a patient in an unfamiliar situation, such as a hospital procedure, may experience the "FUD factor" — a combination of fear, uncertainty and doubt. In order to reduce these three responses, hospitals should ensure that every staff member the patient encounters is relaying consistent information. "Hospitals often have the problem where a nurse will say, 'I don't know what to tell the patient when they come in the hospital because I don't know what the physician has said,'" Dr. Steele says. "The more you can create consistency from everybody, from the physician to the person who delivers the food to the person who cleans the room, the more you reduce the FUD factor and give the patient a better experience."

One of the ways hospitals can promote consistency is by decorating hospital rooms with posters that answer common patient questions. If questions like "When can I shower?" or "When can I walk with a cane?" are posted around the room, patients can educate themselves on the hospital's procedures and relieve some uncertainty.

A consistent message benefits providers as well as patients, Dr. Steele says. When your providers are on the same page as their colleagues, physicians and nurses never have to feel unsure about what to tell a patient or waste time correcting inaccurate information. They also feel like part of a strong, confident team, which leads to better staff unity.

3. Measure progress, fix mistakes. "If you don't measure it, you can't manage it," says Dr. Steele. He recommends that hospitals carefully measure their clinical, financial, operational, operating room and patient satisfaction trends and compares those results to hospitals across the country. This way, hospitals can measure their progress across time and address problem areas more quickly. According to Dr. Steele, one of the biggest challenges to his company is the likelihood that a hospital will backslide in the months or years after implementation.

For example, during implementation, many of Marshall | Steele's hospitals focus their efforts on standardization and attempt to synthesize varying practice patterns and clinical preferences into a single standardized system. "That's very difficult for [hospitals] to maintain," Dr. Steele says. "Six months to a year later, there are new drugs, new techniques and new treatments for providers, so it's very difficult to keep an eye on standardization." In order to prevent backsliding, Marshall | Steele goes back to their client hospitals a year after implementation and performs an assessment. They have also created a network of hospitals so that hospitals can talk to each other about their obstacles and successes. "It creates energy in a group of people who are trying to continuously improve," Dr. Steele says. "You really need to have a coordinated effort to bring people together."

4. Solicit feedback. In order to continuously improve patient care in their hospitals, hospitals should ask patients about their experiences — what went right, what went wrong, and what can be done better next time. "Traditional hospitals are structured around a system of inputs,  or in other words, the expertise contributed by the providers of the service — physicians, nursing, therapy, marketing, finance, etc.," says Marshall Steele vice president Matt Reigle. "When you focus on the patient, you're organizing around the output of the service and looking at how you can develop an optimal patient experience." To this end, Marshall | Steele works with its client hospitals to bring patients back after surgery in a group to participate in a luncheon. In a casual group setting, patients feel more comfortable relaying their experiences and telling the hospital how they could improve.

Patient feedback should be taken seriously and frequently incorporated into the hospital's practices. When patients said they couldn't understand the jargon in hospital guidebooks, Marshall | Steele worked with client hospitals to re-write the guidebooks in simpler language. "Sometimes [healthcare professionals] don't understand what [patients] don't understand," Mr. Reigle said.

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