Quint Studer: 3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Hospital's Performance

Hospitals today are judged on their ability to meet certain performance indicators ranging from clinical outcomes to financial goals. High-level performance has always mattered in healthcare, of course. But over the next several years, as health reform changes go into effect and reimbursement is increasingly linked to performance, it will become even more important.   

Improving a hospital's performance across all indicators can seem like a daunting challenge. But Quint Studer, founder and CEO of Studer Group, says findings from Studer Group's Learning Lab of nearly 800 healthcare organizations across the country indicate that it is possible. In fact, three simple changes in the way you communicate with employees and patients can have a significant impact on hospital performance.

1. When communicating change, lead with the "why." When new processes or other initiatives are introduced into an organization with the goal of improving performance, leaders often forget to explain why the change is necessary. "We as leaders spent most of our time on the 'what' and the 'how,' but the 'why' is just important," says Mr. Studer. "If you flip your message to begin with the why, you have a much more receptive audience [for change]."

Mr. Studer says leaders often fail to communicate the "why" because they (wrongly) assume employees understand the implications the major transformation that’s about to occur in the industry. Let’s say, for example, that hospital leadership wants to ensure all patients receive a post-discharge phone call. Any knowledgeable leader would immediately recognize the goal of this is to reduce unnecessary admissions, which hospitals will be penalized for in the future. However, the nurse who sees it as yet another duty to complete in an already busy day might not make the connection.

"Leaders need to explain why this relatively simple practice will improve the hospital's performance," says Mr. Studer. "Change your communication to 'why, what, how' and you'll get much better compliance."

2. Don't ask if patients have questions. Ask what questions they have. In addition to clinical and financial performance indicators, patient experience measures are becoming increasingly important. For instance, hospitals are now reporting scores from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), and a big part of this survey focuses on how well care providers listen and how understandable their explanations are. Most physician and nurses know to ask patients if they have any questions, but many patients fail to come up with any when put on the spot.

"To patients, the question feels like ‘Do you understand this?'” explains Mr. Studer. “They feel like they’re being graded. As a result, patients don't ask questions. They either call back — which creates more work for the providers — or resort to a web search for information."

Mr. Studer says that a slight adjustment in how the question is asked will make patients more comfortable and improve their perception of their care as well as the level of concern the doctor had for them. Yes, this may create better HCAHPS results, but more importantly it will create better clinical care.

3. Ensure that follow-up phone calls convey concern. Follow-up calls are near "home runs" for helping reduce readmissions and improving compliance to post-discharge instructions, says Mr. Studer. However, they also present an opportunity for the hospital to further impact the patient's positive experience of his or her stay.

Mr. Studer offers two sets of “key words at key times” a care provider can use when making post-visit calls. In the first, the caller says something along the lines of, "Hello, I'm calling from the hospital you recently visited. We wanted to call and see how you're doing and if you have any questions." If a patient received this call, he or she would likely be surprised and happy to receive it.

However, compare it to the following: "Hi, I'm calling from the hospital you recently visited, as you know we like to call our patients after they leave to see how they're doing. Your doctor, [insert name], cares about you and wants to ensure you get the best care possible so [he or she] wanted to make sure you weren't experiencing any issues after you left. We wanted to make sure you understood all your medications and post-discharge instructions. So, how is everything? What questions do you have?"

"The second scenario takes roughly the same amount of time and effort as the first, but it goes a lot further in improving the patient's perception of the hospital as well as of his or her physician," says Mr. Studer.

He adds that while improving performance does yield better metrics and boost an organization’s bottom line, it also results in better clinical care — and that’s the most important reason to make it a priority.

“Better metrics are a natural byproduct of a patient-centered culture,” says Mr. Studer. “They’re not the mission. Taking the best possible care of the patient is the mission — and when everything is built around it, performance issues fix themselves.”

Quint Studer is founder and CEO of Studer Group, a recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. He is a recognized leader and change agent in the healthcare industry and has more than 20 years of healthcare experience. Learn more about Studer Group.

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