Time to make patient experience surveys matter

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With reimbursement tied to patient satisfaction, hospitals increasingly are administering patient experience surveys to gauge how patients perceive their care and hospital visit.

But as FierceHealthcare reported earlier this week, some industry experts are questioning whether patient experience surveys accurately measure quality. Previous research that found no link between patient satisfaction and quality outcomes doesn't help clarify the issue.

The topic has generated some discussion in our LinkedIn group, where readers are encouraging the use of patient experience surveys as one component of measuring a hospital's quality. I agree that patient experience surveys can provide some valuable intel on how a hospital delivers care. But as some readers pointed out, they're not the be-all, end-all.

So how can hospitals make these questionnaires more useful? To find out, I reached out to two healthcare leaders who serve on the FierceHealthcare Editorial Advisory Board and are well-versed in patient experience.

It's important to remember the surveys are less about whether patients are happy, James Merlino, chief experience officer at the Cleveland Clinic, told me. Rather, it's about getting to what drives the overall  experience, which includes measuring how hospitals deliver safety, quality and satisfaction.

And while not every survey question is perfect, the surveys work and capture the right information, he added.

For example, the HCAHPS survey includes several categories related to how caregivers communicate with patients. Once Cleveland Clinic started paying attention to experience ratings, its physician communication scores jumped from the 5th percentile three years go to the 70th percentile today. "So I know that people can improve and I know that it matters to patients," Merlino said.

But don't get caught up in the numbers. Hospitals that only focus on increasing their score miss out on the real value with patient experience feedback, warned Jeremy D Tucker, medical director of the emergency department at MedStar St. Mary's Hospital in Leonardtown, Md., who oversees patient experience for Medical Emergency Professionals.

Valuable insight can come from information found in patient comments, for example, which can reveal what your patients consider a great patient experience, he said.  

So it seems patient feedback can help hospitals figure out what it takes to deliver an exceptional experience. But patient experience surveys are meaningless if hospitals don't act on the information. An important next step is to analyze the answers and identify opportunities for improvement.

How does your hospital gather patient feedback and how does it transform those answers into useful, actionable data? - Alicia (@FierceHealth)