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Patient Recognition Week: Improving Patient Experiences

Customer satisfaction has had power over consumer spaces for a long time. Recently, the healthcare industry has been realizing a critical need to prioritize the customer experience — especially in hospitals.

From the minute a patient or visitor enters your hospital to when they leave, they’re taking note of their experience. While the quality of care they receive may be most important, it’s certainly not the only indicator of a good experience. When they leave the hospital, they’re not just going to remember the medical treatment. They’re going to remember how their providers interacted with them, the cleanliness of the room, and even whether or not the TV worked.

Patients rightfully expect the best when it comes to their healthcare, and patient surveys and reviews on the internet reveal when they’re not satisfied. Even more, hospitals can lose or gain funding and profitability based on these reviews.

How Important is Patient Satisfaction to Profitability? Hospitals that deliver a “superior” patient experience have an average of 50% higher net margins than hospitals with an “average” experience.


 

The stakes are high when it comes to patient satisfaction — and it’s a top metric in healthcare organizations. The patient experience needs to be central to both the short and long-term goals of your hospital. Here are 3 ways your hospital can improve the patient experience.

 

1. Free up your physicians’ time to allow them to spend more time with patients.

Consider all that needs to occur in your hospital for it to run smoothly. Phone calls need to be fielded, patients and medical equipment need to be transported, and important data needs to be recorded. At some point, your team members need to care for patients — but many lack the time due to non-clinical duties.

The time providers spend with their patients has been shown to be the strongest predictor of patient satisfaction. About 80% of patients’ positive perceptions of a provider come from feeling that their provider has spent enough time with them.

As you know, clinical care and patient outcomes also improve when there is a strong patient-provider relationship. But this relationship is difficult to foster without sufficient face-to-face contact, which has the power to portray a provider as compassionate, professional, and skilled at communicating.

Unfortunately, many providers feel rushed and don’t spend as much time with their patients as they’d like. Providers often spend time doing other tasks, such as updating electronic health records (EHRs), which can take up nearly 6 hours of an 11.4-hour work day.

In fact, a 2016 study from the journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, found that physicians only spend about 27% of their time at work face-to-face with their patients. While in the exam room, they spend 37% of their time working on EHRs and completing desk work.

Nurses may not even get to all of their tasks, including ones that can impact patient experience, like comforting them or explain their care. About 86% of nurses say they’ve left one or more activities undone due to lack of time — and 66% of nurses say the task they couldn’t complete was talking to patients.

The patient-provider relationship can affect more than just their experience — it can also impact their health. A patient who feels disrespected by their provider is 3 times less likely to trust them and 2 times less likely to follow their treatment regimen.

Some time-eating tasks are unavoidable — but others can be managed. For example, nurses spend time each day looking for misplaced equipment or doing nonclinical tasks, down to cleaning rooms, on occasion. Doctors need to fill out EHRs, which can be time-consuming.

However, there are solutions — such as implementing an improved equipment inventory strategy or using transcription technology — so providers can spend more time talking to their patient and not running around the hospital or looking at their computer screen.

Hospitals need to do everything they can to ensure that clinicians have as much time as possible with patients. By outsourcing administrative tasks when possible, such as with transport services and call response centers, you can free up your providers’ time. This allows them to be there by their patients’ sides, explain their condition, and improve their overall experience.

Cleanliness is integral to a hospital’s success. By not prioritizing cleanliness, you’re putting your patients’ overall experience as well as their health severely at risk.

 

2. Maintain a clean and welcoming environment.

From the main entrance to the cafeteria to patient rooms, cleanliness in your hospital is key. It has a significant impact on how patients perceive your hospital, and more importantly, it can directly impact their health.

Your patients should feel overwhelmed with the cleanliness of your hospital. A clean environment inspires confidence, provides comfort, and boosts a patient’s overall experience.

The standards are high when it comes to cleanliness — patients will notice a dirty surface and remember it. One survey revealed that only 74% of patients said their room and bathroom were always clean, which means 26% of patients were unsatisfied with the cleanliness of their room at some point during their stay. It’s critical to entrust your cleaning to a trained team of environmental services (EVS) professionals who know how to maintain a clean and safe environment.

Of course, the primary goal of keeping your hospital clean is patient safety. A low cleanliness rating does more than impact your hospital’s reputation — it puts your patients’ health at risk. Hospitals that score higher patient reviews for cleanliness have, on average, the lowest number of reported healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).

An unclean environment is a perfect breeding ground for HAIs. Up to 50% of HAIs may be linked to environmental transmission.

 

3. Provide a dining experience your patients will remember.

In sickness and in health, people need to eat — including your patients and visitors. Lack of access to nutritious or tasty meals and snacks is a common complaint in hospitals, and it can make or break their overall experience.

Improving the quality of hospital food can also have significant positive effects. One hospital in New York implemented a program that makes meals according to a patient’s order and preference — and their patient satisfaction scores regarding food quality improved up to 90%.

The average length of stay at a hospital is over 4 days, which is a significant period of time to go without healthy and appetizing meals. Unfortunately, patients have reported being more satisfied with the service at restaurants that sell paper-wrapped hamburgers than the hospitals they entrust with their lives.

The food patients are eating during their hospital stay doesn’t just affect their perception of the hospital — it impacts their health, too. If patients don’t eat their food because it’s unappetizing, their health is put at risk.

Improving patient food options will not only benefit the health of your patients and lower their risk of malnutrition, but it will also make their stay more enjoyable and satisfactory.

The dining experience goes beyond patient rooms, as well. The dining options in your cafeteria have the power to welcome your patients’ visitors — or drive them away in search of better food. Food can provide them comfort during a difficult time. Many visitors already have enough on their mind — they don’t need to also be concerned about eating unappetizing food.

One hospital in Virginia transformed their cafeteria by improving food options and upgrading the space, providing them with $2.7 million in cafe retail operations profit each year. Keep in mind that while an overall renovation is certainly beneficial, even small changes in your cafeteria — whether it’s updating the dining chairs or using local ingredients — can go a long way.

 

Patient Experience and the Halo Effect

The patient experience comes from a complex weave of factors within your hospital. Components range from provider interactions to the state of their room to the food on their plates — and everything else in between. These all work together to make your patients feel welcomed, comforted, and safe as they heal.

An unintended — and beneficial — side-effect of improving patient experience is the halo effect. When patients have a positive impression of your hospital, they’re more likely to be forgiving if something does go wrong. If a single meal is a little less tasty than usual or a provider has to cut their time shorter one day, they’ll be more likely to let it slide if they remember that the rest of their hospital stay exceeded their expectations.

January 28, 2021

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