Credible physician leaders drive successful patient experience initiatives

There’s no way to improve the patient experience without getting physicians on board, according to one health system. Through a series of pilot studies, Scripps Health has found that physician-led coaching increases buy-in and can lead quickly to improved patient experience scores.

The pilot came about when Scripps Health missed out on an estimated $1.8 million via the CMS Value-Based Purchasing program, which focuses heavily on patient-centered care metrics based on patient experience scores. Ghazala Sharieff, M.D., corporate vice president and chief experience officer at Scripps Health, laid out the organization’s attempts to raise those scores quickly in a blog post for NEJM Catalyst.

Early feedback indicated physician-to-physician communication made a big difference in terms of gaining acceptance for new initiatives, according to Sharieff. “There is inherent credibility in a trusted physician colleague who has proven clinical strength,” she writes.

Scripps also found that many physicians would make changes on their own when confronted with their scores, based on their own desire to be successful in the organization. Sharieff says the team found success with those physicians by recommending a set of simple actions designed to demonstrate greater empathy with patients: sitting at the patient’s bedside rather than standing, knocking on the patient’s door before entering a room to show respect for the patient’s privacy and asking patients to describe their concerns.

To target poor performers, Scripps implemented one-on-one physician coaching. Here, too, they found a marked difference between physicians who sought help on their own and those who felt forced to accept it. Physicians who actively requested help improved much more than those who received what Sharieff calls “forced coaching.” In fact, among those required to have a coach shadow them, two physicians wound up with scores worse than when they started. Sharieff’s key takeaway from this experience has been the importance of having a credible clinician leader to conduct training, ensuring staff buy into the process.