Advisory councils help hospitals boost patient engagement, satisfaction

As incentives grow for hospitals and health systems to improve the patient experience, an increasing number choose to weave patients and families into their leadership structures, Kaiser Health News reports.

Data from the Institute for Patient and Family Centered Care show that 40 percent of hospitals had a type of patient council as of 2013, according to the article. The groups are primarily composed of patients or their relatives who have had either very good or very bad hospital experiences, and hospital executives rely on them for advice about a host of patient-care issues.

And "as we continue to evolve, the hospital looks to us more and more," Jane Maier, who has served on a patient advisory panel for Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital in Boston since 2009, told KHN. She also recently helped Partners HealthCare, the large Massachusetts-based system that owns Faulkner, choose a new electronic health system.

While it may be too early to tell if such councils widely improve healthcare quality, both Michigan-based Spectrum Health and Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital improved their patient satisfaction scores through patient-suggested measures such as speeding up call-button response times and reducing nighttime noise levels, according to the article.

One strong motivator for the trend is financial, as the federal government has strengthened the link between Medicare reimbursements and value-based measures such as patient satisfaction scores. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services also recently unveiled a five-star ranking system for hospitals based solely on patient satisfaction surveys.

But hospitals also have increased their focus on customer service because consumers simply expect more as they handle larger shares of the cost of healthcare, Richard Evans, chief experience officer at Massachusetts General Hospital, told KHN. Partners HealthCare also owns Mass General.

As its patient advisory groups have evolved, Spectrum has learned that their success hinges on clearly communicated expectations, fresh membership and vetted leaders, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Indeed, one major challenge hospitals face is to recruit patient advisers from diverse backgrounds, as those who are most likely to get involved tend to be older, English-speaking and white, KHN reports.

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