How hospitals can stop chasing HCAHPS scores & start getting strategic about patient experience

As one of the first chief experience officers in the U.S. healthcare industry, Diane Hopkins knows what consumers want from their healthcare organizations.

She joined South Bend, Ind.-based Beacon Health System — formerly Memorial Health System — as vice president of market communications in 1990, before becoming chief marketing, innovation and experience officer in 2000. Today, she is dedicated to giving hospital leaders the tools and resources they need to make patient experience a strategic, organizationwide priority for hospitals.

"Hospitals can't just focus on their HCAHPS scores anymore; that's just one metric of how well they're doing," she said. "They need a plan in place that looks at patient experience as a full-on strategy."

Ms. Hopkins spoke with Becker's about how hospitals can take a more strategic approach to patient experience and shared advice for incoming healthcare CXOs.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.

Question: Why is healthcare lagging behind other industries when it comes to improving the consumer experience?

Diane Hopkins: Up until six to eight years ago, patient satisfaction was seen as an amenity, not a core focus for hospitals. As time went on, several things happened at once that created a perfect storm for patient experience to have a new place in the industry. The first thing was consumerism in healthcare. As the internet got bigger, people could research their symptoms, diagnosis and treatments, making healthcare consumers more empowered than ever before. Then you have social media. In the past, if you had a bad experience at the hospital, you'd tell your family and neighbors about it, and that was it. Now, you can tell thousands of people about a bad experience in 10 seconds. Patients' influence is so widespread, so that quickly changed things. Then, of course, regulations changed, and there was actually money on the table based on hospitals' HCAHPS scores. So you've got all these layers of things happening at once that are driving hospitals' efforts to improve patient experience.

Q: What are some untapped opportunities for hospitals to improve patient experience?

DH: One opportunity is to look at hospital operations holistically through the lens of patient experience and apply design thinking across the entire organization. There are a lot of policies and procedures in hospitals — originally approved for a good reason — that don't support exceptional patient experience. Hospitals must review existing and proposed policies through this lens to see how they will affect patients.

Another angle is tied to human resources. Nursing can make or break a patient experience — I've seen it over and over at the hospitals I've worked with nationwide. Hospitals must ensure their hiring practices are designed to hire people who are committed to exceptional patient experiences. HR must also have policies and procedures in place to remove employees in a timely manner who have multiple patient complaints against them. Due to HR restrictions, it may take a year for a nurse who is rude or dismissive to patients to be removed, which can greatly hurt patient experience.

Q: What advice do you have for other healthcare CXOs, some of whom are stepping into these newly created roles for the first time?

DH: One piece of advice is to ensure that their teams have the resources they need, whether it be expertise or manpower, to look at the cultural factors that impact the patient experience. Second, their team should have a mix of clinical and nonclinical people. Gaining the perspective of a nurse as a patient experience coach, as well as someone who's been in admitting or the business office, allows you to see the whole healthcare experience from different perspectives. I would also encourage them to work with senior leaders to create a strategic plan for patient experience that is prioritized on the same level as other strategies for finance and quality.

Most employees want to do a great job. They want to create the best care environment possible. They want people to feel safe and confident. They just get busy or distracted because they are pulled in so many different directions. Another key strategy I share with hospitals is to give these well-meaning employees deliberate backstage reminders of who they are serving.

More articles on patient engagement:
What a home appliance retailer can teach hospitals about patient satisfaction
Viewpoint: Patient narratives should be part of medical education
6 global health threats for travelers this summer: Physicians weigh in

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