University of Utah Health Care's 5-Pronged Approach to Patient Satisfaction

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In fiscal year 2011, satisfaction with outpatient care at Salt Lake City-based University of Utah Health Care was in the 38th percentile. Today, satisfaction is at the 75th percentile, according to Thomas Miller, MD, CMO of University of Utah Health Care. The health system's inpatient side has experienced similar jumps in patient satisfaction.

This success is attributable to several factors, including the system's prioritization of patient satisfaction, physician engagement, access to data and benchmarking, education and transparency across the system.

Chrissy Daniels is director of strategic initiatives at University of Utah Health Care.1. Make patient satisfaction a priority. Patient satisfaction has improved drastically at University of Utah Health Care in large part because the health system made patient satisfaction one of its three top goals. Organizational alignment around a few goals helped focus leaders and providers on defined endpoints, according to Chrissy Daniels, director of strategic initiatives at University of Utah Health Care. In addition, making patient satisfaction a priority meant health system executives provided the leadership, time and other resources necessary to make improvements across the organization.  

2. Engage physicians.
Physicians' involvement in patient satisfaction initiatives is crucial for their success. Physician champions, such as Lorris Betz, MD, PhD, former senior vice president for health science at University of Utah Health Care, helped gain physician buy-in for patient satisfaction initiatives. "He challenged all our physicians and the hospital operations team to work together to improve that experience. That alignment made a huge difference," Ms. Daniels says.

Having transparent goals and sharing data also helps to engage physicians in patient satisfaction efforts because physicians can more clearly see the benefit to patients. "The most compelling [factor] for us is our physician leadership's view on the importance of patient experience as a measure of quality," Ms. Daniels says.

3. Collect data and benchmark.
A key driver of University of Utah Health Care's patient satisfaction improvement was its access to data through Press Ganey and its ability to benchmark its performance against other health systems. University of Utah Health Care sends patient satisfaction surveys by email, which yields significantly more responses than paper surveys, which the health system previously used. In addition to higher volume, electronic surveys provide faster feedback than paper surveys, enabling leaders to act quickly to address current patient satisfaction issues, according to Ms. Daniels.

Dr. Thomas Miller is CMO of University of Utah Health Care.4. Coach physicians and staff.
Collecting data helps leaders identify opportunities for improvement and sharing best practices across the system. University of Utah Health Care measures patient satisfaction scores at the unit level; the unit managers, who have been trained on patient satisfaction improvement, coach physicians and staff to increase the scores.

For example, an outpatient clinic had low patient satisfaction scores around physicians and staff. Through observation and analysis, leaders learned that this dissatisfaction stemmed from long wait times at the clinic. University of Utah Health Care leaders trained clinic staff and physicians on how to decrease wait time and share wait times with patients. Staff were taught to notify patients of the estimated wait time before their appointment so they know what to expect. Staff also began to update patients on the wait time to keep patients informed. "That training went a long way to changing expectations that patients had to wait," Dr. Miller says. "Once informed, [patients] tend to be less concerned about it."

Managers also taught clinic staff to be friendlier to patients — to make eye contact, to smile and to avoid distractions such as phone calls and email when speaking with a patient, according to Dr. Miller.

5. Provide transparency. University of Utah Health Care leaders empower frontline workers to develop and implement patient satisfaction initiatives at the unit level. Successful practices as well as challenges are then shared across the organization. The chief nursing officer holds regular meetings with each unit's patient experience champions to discuss their experience with patient satisfaction programs.

"There's also a lot of informal sharing between managers and personal networking," Ms. Daniels says. Because University of Utah Health Care leaders make patient satisfaction a system-wide goal, engage physicians and employees in satisfaction efforts and provide benchmarking data, people proactively discuss and share successes and failures with each other. This cross-unit sharing avoids duplication of ineffective strategies and increases efficiency.

5-prong strategy

Improving patient satisfaction requires collaboration between providers and staff, support from leadership and the tools — such as data — to improve. Without any one of these factors, patient satisfaction initiatives may not succeed.

More Articles on Patient Experience:

Patient Experience Roundtable: Raising and Maintaining Patient Satisfaction
A Comprehensive Communication Plan to Streamline Care Coordination Improves Patient & Physician Satisfaction

8 Critical Steps to Optimize Patient Experience

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