3 keys to evaluating patient experience

With some research showing no link between patient satisfaction and quality outcomes, experts are questioning whether patient feedback is a legitimate assessment of quality.

However, several factors can make patient experience surveys a more accurate gauge of care quality, according to a study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

1. Definition
Using "sound research," healthcare organizations must define what "patient satisfaction" actually measures, the authors noted. A common measure of patients' evaluation of care would not only alleviate confusion, but also enable cross-study comparisons of the assessment and interpretation of the patient experience.

2. Focus
The authors recommend focusing patient experience measures on a specific event or visit, rather than all care provided over a long period. Doing so ensures the measures consistently correlate with mortality and readmission rates and other outcome measures.

The patient surveys also should focus on interactions between patients and all providers on a care team. For example, only evaluating communication with physicians could leave out provider interactions that are more predictive of overall satisfaction.

3. Timeliness
The timing of such surveys also is key to effectively evaluating patient experience. The authors highlight the short time span of the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey, which is collected no later than 42 days after discharge. After a year or more, the respondent's memory can skew the patient experience survey results.

While patient satisfaction may be hard to measure, one hospital CEO says it's one of the easier things to fix.

"You call them small things, but I call them easy things" said Clinton (Ohio) Memorial Hospital CEO Mark Dooley, FierceHealthcare previously reported. "There's no reason they shouldn't be fixed," he said of patients' dissatisfaction with issues, such as response time to answering a call light, length of time it took to get food or nurses not being able to find an extra pillow.

For more:
- here's the NEJM study