The continuous feedback loop

Creating a great patient experience

In 2016, Beacon Health System set out to address one of the biggest challenges health systems face today: Delivering on the promise of a great patient experience. Starting off, we did all of the right things, like studying up on the latest practices and asking tough questions.

While this process allowed us to create a comprehensive set of goals, we hit a roadblock when it came to measurement. The majority of the information we needed to track our progress was unusable or unavailable. For example, most of the patient feedback was already weeks old by the time we received it from the vendor, or the typical reports available to our staff were too long to be of any practical use. But without immediate, clear information, our goal of service excellence would be difficult to achieve. Data we needed had to be real-time, simply presented, transparent to team members and actionable.

Patients or customers?

You read that correctly. At Beacon Health System, we refer to our patients as customers, and for good reason. When policymakers set out to reshape the U.S. healthcare system a decade ago, healthcare spending was peaking at about 16 percent of the United States’ gross domestic product. This was roughly twice the amount from 30 years prior, according to Commonwealth Fund data.

One of policymakers’ primary tactics for “bending the cost curve,” or slowing the nation’s overall healthcare spending rate, was shifting costs to patients through high-deductible plans and higher out-of-pocket costs. The theory was that patients would be thriftier with their healthcare dollars if they had some “skin in the game.”

Indeed, patients today are spending more of their own money on healthcare. According to Kaiser Family Foundation research, about 15 percent of patients in 2005 paid more than $1,000 out-of-pocket annually. Within a decade, that rate increased by about 50 percent, with 23 percent of patients in 2015 paying more than $1,000 out-of-pocket annually.

In the Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan communities we serve, these high-deductible healthcare plans are very popular. As a result, our customers increasingly expect a higher standard of service from us than they may have in the past, when their insurance plans would have picked up a higher percentage of the costs. They’re also comparison shopping and weighing their options based on factors like service and convenience — all buying behaviors you would expect of customers.

We’re not alone. Hospitals and health systems across the country are experiencing similar pressures. For the third consecutive year, a recent survey by the American College of Healthcare Executives put patient satisfaction among the top five biggest challenges providers and administrators face.

As our region’s trusted partner and guide to creating and maintaining health and wellbeing, Beacon decided to address this challenge head-on. Along with our sites of care — Elkhart General Hospital, Memorial Hospital of South Bend, Beacon Children’s Hospital, 75 Beacon Medical Group sites — and our more than 7,000 associates, we set out to deliver on the promise of an exceptional experience.

Beacon’s approach

First, we put together a 15-person, multidisciplinary team from across our health system, representing a diverse cross-section of organizational stakeholders like human resources, operations, nursing and critical care. In 2017, this group was tasked with implementing the promise to our customers.

For patients, we wanted their experience with Beacon to be exceptional, and not just from a clinical perspective. Healthcare today is much more than just a clinical interaction, so we focused our questions to understand how the customers felt about being listened to, the courtesy of our team, and the clarity of communications. Our next task was to stand up measures that would help us meet our goals.

Building a better platform

As we were developing requirements to build our own system, we were introduced to Quality Reviews. The timing couldn’t have been better. Founded by physicians, Quality Reviews builds proprietary software to help hospitals and health systems capture and quickly analyze real-time patient feedback to facilitate service recovery. The company was founded on the belief that there’s a better way for hospitals, outpatient clinics and other healthcare facilities to obtain and manage real-time feedback via an easy-to-use platform.

In July 2017, Beacon and Quality Reviews began developing a new protocol that would collect real-time customer feedback from five discrete inpatient and outpatient areas. First, we developed a set of survey questions that aligned with our brand promise and allowed customers’ voices to be heard. We started a pilot with our emergency rooms and urgent care clinics and immediately gained actionable insights. According to feedback from the ER, scores were quickly understood, and the verbatim comments helped our clinical teams understand how those experiences could be improved. The data, which is also reported by physicians, gave us insights and spurred some friendly competition among providers.

The real-time, text-based customer feedback platform includes a free-text field, a feature that allows us to capture insights. One of our biggest surprises was how many positive comments were made about Beacon team members. Because of the tool, we regularly share positive feedback with our staff and physicians, boosting morale and further contributing to a positive customer experience.

Most importantly, however, the Beacon-Quality Reviews partnership supports our health system’s ongoing effort to instill a culture of service across the entire organization. Through this partnership, we can better serve our community and fulfill our mission.

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