What a Patient Wants: 4 Tips for Hospitals to Stay Attuned

A 2012 survey showed hospital leaders thought some of the top ways to improve the patient experience pertained to new facilities, private rooms and better food service. The problem? These were essentially executives' best guesses. They weren't based on a systematic examination of what most patients really wanted.

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, James Merlino, MD, chief experience officer at Cleveland Clinic, and Ananth Raman, UPS Foundation professor of business logistics with Harvard Business School in Boston, said the patient perspective needs to be integrated into patient experience efforts for hospitals to see any results. The authors outlined some of innovative approaches health systems have adopted to help them better understand patient needs.  

1. Create patient advisory councils. Hospitals should identify a group of patients that can act as the customers' "voice" throughout the organization. Cleveland Clinic's Voice of the Patient Advisory Councils help ensure the system remains familiar with patients' needs. "Councils have assisted with redesigning waiting rooms, providing advice on improving the admission guide and helping managers better understand communication needs," the authors wrote.

2. Pay attention to patients' comments and anecdotes. When hospitals compare their HCAHPS performance with that of other U.S. hospitals, they can identify metrics in which they fall short. But by paying attention to patients' anecdotal comments, hospitals can better understand why patients felt the way they did.

By looking over its HCAHPS data, Cleveland Clinic learned patients were more satisfied when their caregivers smiled more. "But when the Clinic dug  deeper, it discovered that patients were not concerned about whether their caregivers had happy expressions per se; rather, they were concerned when doctors and nurses had stern expressions because they interpreted them to mean that caregivers were concealing problems from them," said the authors. This anxiety adversely affected patient satisfaction.

3. Leaders need to make rounds at least once per month. When they wander throughout the hospital and talk to patients, families, caregivers and frontline staff, leaders gain a better firsthand account of patient needs. The authors said it is important for leaders to stay in touch with patient needs and identify opportunities for improvement. Also, leadership rounds are an important way to get nonclinical executives out of their offices and expose them to the frontlines of patient care.  

4. Don't forget the importance of stories. Relying on excessive amounts of data can be dry and uninspiring, whereas conveying the same message through a story can be more powerful. For instance, Marc Boom, MD, CEO of Houston Methodist, begins every board meeting by relaying a patient's account of his or her stay — good or bad.

More Articles on Patient Satisfaction:

Study: PCMH Model Improves Patient Satisfaction
Improving Physician Mindfulness May Increase Patient Satisfaction
Patient Experience Roundtable: Raising and Maintaining Patient Satisfaction

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