3 steps to better understand the patient experience, improve satisfaction

In an effort to improve patient satisfaction, most hospitals rely on the national Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey to gauge patients' perspectives on care. But a new white paper says that while the survey findings provide insight into the patient experience, the survey tool isn't designed to provide the high-level details that hospitals need to link patient satisfaction with business performance.

The white paper, "Measuring the patient experience: Lessons from other industries," by McKinsey & Company, offers health systems a comprehensive approach to better understand the patient experience. The authors based the approach on the experience of companies in other industries that significantly improved customer satisfaction.

A consumer-driven market has made it necessary for healthcare organizations to improve the patient experience, but despite their efforts, few have had significant success, coauthor Jenny Cordina told FierceHealthcare in an exclusive interview. Part of the problem is that most hospital systems don't have strong ways to fully measure and understand the patient experience, she said. While HCAHPS does offer insight into many measures, she said it doesn't take into account others that impact patient satisfaction, such as the patient's experience during pre-admission testing and outpatient follow-up. The survey also doesn't consider financial outcomes.

Furthermore, every question in the HCAHPS survey is equal in weight yet each patient places a different importance level on the questions, coauthor Whitney Gretz said during the exclusive interview. "We have to look at improving the patient experience more holistically," she said.

For example, although many patients may say they like having easy parking at a hospital, a comfortable waiting area and a better meal selection, those factors easily change. Cordina said the most important factors are the "emotional side of the experience," such as the patients interactions with staff, nurses and doctors.

The authors say that organizations must understand what drives the patient experience in order to achieve their desired business outcomes. Once they understand it, they can then measure it. For example, if an organization wants to make sure its patients are better informed, it may want to measure how long nurses spend with patients, how often and quickly nurses respond to a patient call button.

And though some organizations have made strides in certain elements, such as providing a better suite of tools to help streamline appointment scheduling, few hospitals or health systems have taken a comprehensive look at the entire patient experience.

"It really is in the early stages," Cordina said. "When you think about retailers and theme parks they've been dealing with consumers for a long time…Providers have been doing it for a few years. It's a new skill and it's particularly difficult and not easy to change."

However, Gretz said that healthcare providers can learn and benefit from the insights of these consumer-driven industries. The white paper suggests that organizations:

Focus on business outcomes and patient satisfaction:  Determine which business outcome your organization wants to focus on, such as patient retention, and then conduct research that uncovers the questions that will best measure patient satisfaction that ties into the objective. The white paper uses the example of a health insurer that focused its efforts on how to increase the number of members who agreed with the phrase that its company was the "insurer for me" in order to meet its business objective of improving member retention.

Conduct research that reveals factors that influence how patients respond to questions related to your measure: This information will help your organization develop comprehensive measures and ultimately foster improvements.

Identify clinical and non-clinical factors that influence patient satisfaction: Consider the entire inpatient experience from preadmission scheduling, testing to follow-up care. Don't forget to consider the role price and brand plays when patients determine where they seek care. Gather information via focus groups and patient surveys to pinpoint which factors most strongly influence satisfaction levels that correlate with your desired objectives, the paper states.

To learn more:
- download the paper