The business case for innovating communications in healthcare

This week, healthcare experts from around the country are gathered in Las Vegas to share their expertise with attendees of the Medical Group Management Association's (MGMA) annual conference.

Because patient satisfaction has been a recurring hot topic for FiercePracticeManagement, we spoke with M. Bridget Duffy, M.D., chief medical officer at Vocera Communications in San Francisco, and the former chief experience officer at Cleveland Clinic--the first person in the country to hold the title--about her Tuesday presentation, "Restoring Humanity to Healthcare: The Key to Driving Loyalty and Growth."

At the heart of Duffy's talk is the idea that the healthcare industry's recent focus on patient satisfaction and HCAHPS scores don't go deeply enough into repairing the core breakdowns in the way organizations help patients heal.

"I think we're really late to the game in healthcare to focus on what matters most to the patient," said Duffy, pictured, in an exclusive interview. "I often think, 'Shame on us that we waited until the government mandated that we actually measure satisfaction, publicly report it and tie it to reimbursement, But what's happened in the race to react to this mandate is that the focus is on customer service or service recovery versus clinical innovations around the human experience that restore dignity and respect back to healthcare."

The most prevalent aspect of the healthcare experience that patients report is broken surrounds communication, according to Duffy. But the good news is that thorough innovation, medical practices can come up with strategies to "hardwire humanity" back into the patient experience.

For example, Vocera has worked with healthcare organizations across the country to implement innovations including the following:

  • Informed Hope: As an add-on to the typical informed consent process in which physicians and patients review everything that could go wrong during a procedure, Informed Hope gives patients a chance to express to physicians their specific goals for returning to their lives following a procedure. Heart surgeon Marc R. Katz, M.D., at Bon Secours Richmond Health System uses Informed Hope as a standing order in his preoperative notes before any heart procedure, Duffy noted.
  • Good to GO: The brainchild of a nurse at Cullman Regional Medical Center, a 145-bed medical center in Alabama, Good to Go takes the patient discharge process beyond the traditional method of sending patients home with pages of paperwork and providing easily forgotten verbal instructions. Instead, discharge instructions are digitally recorded right at the bedside, so that patients can not only share them with their primary care physician and family members but also review them from home as much as necessary. This change resulted in a 15 percent reduction in readmission rates at Cullman, plus substantial increases in HCAHPS scores in multiple areas.
  • Sacred Moment upon Admission. Twin Rivers Medical Center, a 116-bed hospital in Missouri, suffered from patient satisfaction and physician engagement scores in the bottom 5 percent, said Duffy. But the organization moved up to the 70th percentile within six months by carving out time upon admission to ask patients specific questions about their fears, spiritual needs and communication preference.

Although improving communication and patient experience are often misperceived as softer, less important elements of providing healthcare, according to Duffy, the business case for change is clear. Not only does devotion to the human experience drive volume and foster patient loyalty to your network in the era of accountable care organizations, but it also affects the bottom line directly in terms of dollars linked to patient satisfaction scores and preventable hospital readmissions.

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