Better patient satisfaction comes from hospital staff

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The biggest key to patient satisfaction isn't a fancy hospital lobby or high-tech equipment; it's the staff, according to a survey released yesterday by J.D. Power and Associates.

When the marketing and research firm looked at the inpatient and outpatient hospital experience, it found that "patient satisfaction is most influenced by human factors," more so than facility upgrades or equipment.

Despite the trend of some hospitals modeling their organizations like luxury hotels, J.D. Power and Associates found that "Having an appealing hospital facility matters, but an experienced and socially skilled staff has a greater impact on patient satisfaction," Rick Millard, senior director of the healthcare practice at J.D. Power and Associates, said in a statement.

Although guests at upscale hotels said the facility accounted for about half (48 percent) of overall satisfaction, in an inpatient setting, the hospital facility represents only 19 percent of patients' satisfaction.  

Overall though, inpatients and hotel guests are about equally satisfied with their stay. Inpatients reported an average 825 index points on a 1,000-point scale, compared to luxury hotel guests' satisfaction at 822 points. Outpatients reported even higher satisfaction, averaging 863 points. Not surprisingly, patient satisfaction dropped to 788 points in the emergency department.

How is it that a hospital patient and a hotel guest, when one is presumably sick and one on vacation, score so similarly? The survey attributed patient satisfaction to the people who operate it. Doctors and nurses account for a third (34 percent) of the overall experience ratings for inpatients, 50 percent for outpatients and 43 percent for emergency patients.

Therefore, the survey encouraged hospitals to focus on staff. "From the perspective of patients, it might be more worthwhile to invest in finding and keeping staff with superior interpersonal skills."

With patient satisfaction at such high priority under the HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) survey, hospitals shouldn't neglect patient satisfaction at the individual level. Even small changes in physicians' and staff members' behavior can affect satisfaction, Ruth Ragusa, vice president of organizational effectiveness and performance improvement at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, N.Y., told Becker's Hospital Review. "Even something simple like when you go in to speak to a patient, sit down as opposed to standing. It might take the same amount of time, but the impression is not rushed."

Deb Beaulieu in today's FiercePracticeManagement editorial echoed similar sentiments about the small things with a big impact in "4 ways for docs to show they're not jerks." Among best practices for physicians are tips to remember to address patients and themselves by name and to leave personal stress at the door in favor of the patient's care.

Still, staff take their cues on patient satisfaction from their leaders.

"The single most important contributory factor in our success is that the hospital's senior [leaders] embrace and drive service excellence for the organization," Teresa Williams, vice president and chief quality officer of Franklin, Tenn.,-based Capella Healthcare said in the Becker's article. "That culture of service excellence must be continuously nurtured in order to consistently achieve the strong HCAHPS scores and provide the best care for our patients and communities."

For more information:
- see the J.D. Powers and Associates' announcement
- here's the Becker's Hospital Review article
- read the FiercePracticeManagement article

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