Going from Good to Great Care — 5 Ways to Boost HCAHPS Scores

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 As our healthcare system continues its move toward an outcomes/value based environment, patient feedback regarding their personal experience will undoubtedly become increasingly important. A critical indicator of patient satisfaction is HCAHPS, or Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems.

This national standardized survey measures patient perceptions of the quality of care they receive at acute-care hospitals. Every day, more than 7,900 patients complete the HCAHPS survey. Recently, these scores have begun to be used to calculate incentive payments for hospital reimbursement.


Under the value-based purchasing program, hospitals could be financially penalized for low HCAHPS scores. Historically, healthcare hasn’t been held to the same standards as the hospitality industry. However, as this new trend continues, patient satisfaction will be an increasingly important parameter that will affect who will be rewarded or penalized. This growing financial impact of HCAHPS is pressing healthcare leaders to explore ways to improve their scores.

Here are five strategies hospitals can use to boost their HCAHPS scores:

1. Make improving the patient experience a priority. In order to make the patient experience a priority, hospital leaders must create a culture that values the patient experience. Training healthcare staff to adopt a more patient-centric, service-oriented approach to patient care will be increasingly important. Raising interaction levels with the patients themselves is important as it facilitates first-hand feedback from patients and families. This direct feedback is vital in helping hospitals continuously improve patient satisfaction.

Additionally, leaders must start raising awareness of what HCAPS scores are and their impact. Being mindful of being graded should hopefully improve service and raise accountability amongst team members. Each member of the healthcare team should know that although it may seem trivial, every contribution they make to the patients experience can make the difference between a higher HCAHPS score and a lower one.

2. Reduce unnecessary ambient noise. One of the major questions the HCAHPS survey asks patients is about the noise level in their room at night. This question consistently earns the lowest satisfaction scores of all HCAHPS survey questions.

Rest and recuperation in a quiet space is calming and nurturing for healing and recovery. Environments with loud, interruptive noises are tremendously unsettling and disruptive to the healing process. Ringing phones, beepers and overhead paging are common sounds heard 24/7 in hospitals. Although these sounds are counterproductive to a speedy healing, hospitals still use communication devices that disrupt a patient’s care experience.

There are far more quiet forms of communication such as a secure HIPAA-compliant texting platform. These types of systems reduce the need for overhead paging and phone calls. Instead, staff can message patient info, updates, diagnostic images or any actionable data via text, which helps to mitigate stressful and unnecessary environmental noise.

3. Streamline staff communication. The cornerstone of a positive patient/customer experience is communication — between both providers and patients and among providers. Several questions on the HCAHPS survey address communication. For example:

How often did nurses and physicians listen carefully to you?
How often nurses and physicians explain things in a way you could understand?
Did you receive information about symptoms or health problems to look out for after leaving the hospital?

These questions and several more are based on patients reporting how often AND how well staff communicated with them. In order for patients to report high satisfaction, providers should strive to communicate frequently and effectively. This means going the extra mile to make sure patients – and their families – know exactly what to expect while in your care and after leaving your care. Creating a more effective and consistent way to communicate is simple to implement, and ultimately leads to better quality care and higher patient satisfaction.

4. Understand patients’ time sensitivity. Many questions on the HCAHPS survey also ask patients about the amount of time they waited to be admitted, seen and discharged. Patient satisfaction is highly and inversely correlated to the amount of waiting time they spend unattended. The longer a patient waits, the more dissatisfied he or she will be. By utilizing efficient and secure communication tools, nurses and doctors can decrease patient wait times and see improved patient satisfaction rates.

5. Keep patients informed. Another key strategy in improving HCAHPS scores is to educate patients throughout their hospital stay. Every interaction with a patient is an opportunity to educate him or her about his or her condition, medication, post-discharge plans and follow-up plans. Patients who understand more about their condition will feel more involved in their care process. 

In addition to speaking with patients one-on-one, hospitals can also educate patients via written instructions at the bedside or on a whiteboard placed within a patient’s eyesight. Educating patients during transitions of care, such as from the hospital to a long-term care facility or back to home, is critically important as understanding what to do post-discharge eases patients' anxiety. The goal should be to empower patients with pertinent information, and providing them with the right tools to make them feel this way makes a huge difference.

The cores of each of these five tips are all related to improving communication in our healthcare environment. Improved communication increases efficiency, which translates to better service. Better service ultimately leads to higher HCAHPS scores, and that is what will separate the good from the great.

More Articles on HCAHPS Scores:

Care Quality Plays Small Role in HCA Executive Bonuses
To Improve HCAHPS, Achieve Alignment
Searching for the Best Hospitals: Does a Great Reputation Mean High-Quality Care?

Andrew A. Brooks, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon and cofounder and chief medical officer at TigerText, a secure mobile messaging platform developed to improve healthcare communication, workflow and reduce risk. He can be reached at Andrew@tigertext.com.


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