Increasing Patient Survey Frequency Drives Experience Improvements at Lahey Health

Something Mary Anna Sullivan, MD, chief quality and safety officer at Burlington, Mass.-based Lahey Health knows is if you're going to improve the patient experience, you had better embrace a challenge.

Dr. Sullivan is responsible for oversight of quality and safety at Lahey Health, which includes performance improvement. When it comes to improving hospital performance in patient satisfaction and the patient experience, Lahey Health's strategy has been to focus on data collection. According to Dr. Sullivan, the in-depth analysis of this data combined with physicians' competitive tendencies helps create and maintain a quality patient experience.

To collect its data, Lahey Health conducts periodic patient surveys, facilitated by Press Ganey, on the care experience. In the past, Lahey Health collected this information 30 times per year. Now, with its mission of continually improving the patient experience, the health system is in the process of increasing patient surveying to as often as logistics will allow.

Once patient experience data is collected and analyzed, Lahey Health's nurses and physicians spend time reviewing it. In the reports providers receive, data is broken down by unit. It's even possible for providers to see their satisfaction scores as compared to those of their colleagues. It is Lahey Health's hope that more frequent data-collection will make it easy to see where care is succeeding in providing a positive experience as well as where it could use improvement.

The higher resolution data also creates an additional opportunity: a window into how provider actions affect the patient population on a clinical level. "We think we're beginning to see possible effects on important measurements like readmission rates," Dr. Sullivan says. "Using data, we can see and track which units have nailed explanations at discharge and have provided fabulous discharge care. We can also see in our surveys how this correlates with patient satisfaction. We can actually map care."

Mapping care — comparing provider actions and care variations to patient satisfaction scores — has proven to be extremely useful in Lahey Health's work in improving the patient experience. In particular, Lahey Health has chosen to focus this care-mapping on deconstructing patient satisfaction scores in orthopedics, congestive heart failure and discharge planning and transition, all major quality reporting metrics.

But it's more than a game of numbers. "It's not just about leadership and measures; it's about getting out to the front line of healthcare. Everybody has to know that it's not a corporate have-to. Our efforts should begin and end with our patients knowing we're here to comfort and care for them," says Dr. Sullivan.

It might be different from the traditional approach, but Dr. Sullivan insists that cleanliness and politeness, while not insignificant, are no longer what needs to be at the heart of patient satisfaction. "Patient satisfaction is about quality of care," says Dr. Sullivan. "We try to keep people happy so they are engaged in their care, and so we can be true long-term partners in their health, investing with them as a way to maintain wellness."

It can be challenging to focus on satisfaction scores, she says. "Everyone has a lot of balls in the air, and patient care is very fast-paced these days. Technology can get in the way. We have to make sure that everyone is paying attention, and that the first item on the agenda is how we're doing with quality, safety and the patient experience."

Her biggest recommendation for hospitals working on patient satisfaction initiatives is to move as quickly as possible, remain transparent and celebrate the successes. "We can always all do a little bit better to make quality important," she says.

More Articles on Quality:

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