Cultural competency, communication key to better HCAHPS scores

Improving Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores is a top priority within the hospital sector, and to make meaningful improvements, provider-patient communication that incorporates demographic information is key, according to Healthcare Finance News.

Communication measures account for 50 percent of the HCAHPS Patient Experience Index, leading many hospitals to pay special attention to that aspect of care. For example, Chicago-based consulting firm Huron Healthcare will collaborate with some 1,000 hospitals on developing best practices for communication. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, meanwhile, is exploring further drilldown into patient population features to improve HCAHPS scores, especially as the population diversifies and cultural competency becomes essential to improvement.

The role of taking demographics into account in improving communication has largely been overlooked, said Huron Managing Director Matthew Bates. "The best answer for understanding the cultural differences in patient demographics is to meet patients where they are and not where you want them to be," he told the publication. "Yes, change is hard--you have to make it a priority. But once you make it a priority, you can change."

For example, he said, in a hospital that serves a largely Spanish-speaking patient population, being able to communicate with those patients is not listed as an HCAHPS communication issue but it is still vital for aligning hospital services and patient preferences.

Cultural competency and the ability to communicate with patients from varied backgrounds on their levels is especially important in areas such as end-of-life care, where patients must understand exactly what a provider is telling them, added Kevin Keck, M.D., chief medical officer for West Hartford, Connecticut's SCIO Health Analytics. Hospitals seeking to improve in these areas should enforce strengthened communication protocols from the top down, Keck added.

Healthcare experts have suggested improving patient satisfaction scores does not necessarily improve outcomes, but recent research published in Management Science found that caregiver-patient communication is the number-one factor in preventable readmissions, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Investing in communication training programs, the study found, could improve 30-day readmission rates by up to 5 percent.

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