Why hospitals should focus on hospitality

A new executive role responsible for the service side of hospital care has popped up in organizations across the country: chief patient experience officer. Hospitals have even gone so far as to recruit hospitality experts from the hotel industry to fill the role, according to a recent article published in Kaiser Health News.

A chief patient experience officer is charged with improving communication with patients and ensuring staff are attentive to patients' needs. According to the article, enhancing hospitality at a hospital offers a slew of benefits for both patients as well as hospital employees. These benefits are outlinedbelow.

1. Hospitals can reduce penalties by providing better patient experiences. The way patients answer questions about their hospital stay can contribute to the amount of financial penalties a hospital will be subject to under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to the article. The financial penalties introduced by the PPACA are based on a hospital's ranking in comparison to other hospitals, and one deciding factor is how well they do on surveys of recently discharged patients. Questions regarding the level of patient care, such as how well physicians and nurses communicated with them, how quiet the halls were and how well providers explained the drugs administered to them, among others, help determine where a hospital is ranked, according to KHN.

2. Gain a competitive edge. Patients are becoming savvy consumers, especially as costs have increased. Similar to the way consumers shop for hotel rooms or airline tickets, prospective patients will use Medicare's Hospital Compare site and consult the reviews of past patients to select a hospital for treatment, according to KHN. Ultimately, providing better patient experiences will lead to better marketing and loyalty for hospitals.

3. Develop a philosophy and culture of compassion. Kaiser sites Falls Church, Va.-based Inova Health System's chief patient experience officer's successful cultivation of a culture centered around compassion and service. Paul Westbrook, formerly senior vice president of brand management, luxury segment for Marriott International and senior vice president of Ritz-Carlton's product and brand management, developed the "Inova promise" to "meet the unique needs of each person" Inova serves, according to KHN.

One example of the Inova promise is hourly rounds. During this time, nurses are expected to check in on patients in a meaningful way. Proactively checking on patients instead of waiting for them to use the call button can drastically enhance their experience, and also efficiently prevent problems such as bedsores or falls, according to the article.

4. Take cues from patients. Hospitals can use advice from patient and family advisory councils and patient surveys to identify areas in need of improvement. The article sites a transformational relationship and communication class implemented at the Cleveland Clinic that requires all 3,000 of its staff physicians to take the day-long course. In 2010, the hospital showed each physician what their patients said about them on a survey, and almost half of the comments were negative. According to the article, physicians were stunned and disbelieving when they read the comments, but the result has been a big increase in physician communication scores since 2008.

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