What repealing the Affordable Care Act means for patient satisfaction

Signed into law in 2010, the Affordable Care Act made the idea of patient satisfaction in hospitals a competitive advantage.

For better or worse, it tied several penalties and multipliers to Medicare payments based on the patient experience, and provided a universally accessible trove of actionable performance data through the HCAHPS survey system to help hospitals improve their quality and efficiency of care.

However, we may never get to see the whole thing play out, depending on how our current Congress chooses to handle President Obama's signature legislation. A lot is up in the air. But whatever happens with the ACA, it should not affect your data-based approach to patient satisfaction.

Satisfaction Not Guaranteed

The idea of HCAHPS reporting was to get more value out of the dollars we are already spending on our healthcare by creating merit-based goals for the people actually providing the care. That way the patients are more engaged with their practitioners, more likely to return for follow-up or seek preventive care, and less likely to add undue burden to the healthcare system.

Although focusing too heavily on patient satisfaction can sometimes backfire, most medical professionals agree that it is paramount to not only the success of the healthcare organization, but the overall health and well-being of the communities they serve. In other words, a balanced approach at making patients both happy and well is best. Hospitals have seen impressive gains in several key patient experience areas since the ACA helped focus hospitals' efforts.

Onward and Upward

No matter how organizations tackle the balance of medical care and patient experience, whether through government mandate or corporate mandate, proper employee recognition is critical. Hospitals are workplaces unlike any other – where employees are asked to simultaneously be caretakers, administrators, and customer service experts. They have some of the highest job stress and turnover out there because communities will always depend on excellent care.

Here are 12 quick tips for improving patient experience with employee recognition:

1. Align recognition strategy to focus on hospitality and customer experience.
2. Enable employees to recognize each other at the point of care.
3. Enable patients and their families to recognize employees at the point of care or after they get home.
4. Promote on-the-spot recognition to increase positive interactions between employees.
5. Incorporate Press Ganey recognition or other national award into internal platform. Press Ganey recognizes a select group of organizations with awards that acknowledge efforts to improve the quality and safety of patient care.
6. Make recognition ballots available in admittance folders, nurse stations, common areas, and waiting areas and have an online version for patients and their families.
7. Swiftly reward employees who receive special mentions of their excellence in a letter, email, social media post, survey, or ballot.
8. Promote amazing stories of employee success organization-wide via your recognition platform, intranet, website and newsletter.
9. Offer quarterly awards for hospital experience scorecards based on how high the department scores, and share results with other teams to promote friendly competition.
10. Employ strategic spot recognition cards to reward compliance with the 5-foot rule, etc. and feature senior leadership/president/CEO buy-in.
11. Recognize employees in groups when they achieve an important common goal as a team (i.e., quiet/clean floor, etc.).
12. Offer recognition currency (e.g., points, gifts) along with Employee of the Month awards to increase incentives for service excellence.

No matter the legislature changes, continue to reward and recognize employees for making patients happy and well, and continue to strive for performance goals as if nothing will change. No reason to give up some of the positive impacts of ACA just because Uncle Sam isn't watching anymore.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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