I would not be the first to express concern if the only motivating factor for a healthcare organization or system to address the patient experience was due to the pending threat of reduced reimbursement connected to Value-Based Purchasing (VBP). Yet, I can also say that the attention this possibility has brought to the cause for how patients are engaged in the healthcare setting is also warmly welcomed. Managing this juxtaposition of feelings is what I find many organizations are now struggling with in addressing their patient experience efforts.
Many leaders accountable for improving patient experience outcomes are both supported by this elevated attention to policy, but also challenged by its parameters. Through the use of the measures incorporated in VBP one path for addressing the issue of service is seemingly set out. Succeed in certain domains of the HCAHPS assessment and you have a better chance of getting more of your withheld reimbursement dollars. (While I will not get into the full details of VBP, you can read more here.)
This sets up an interesting game of sorts in which many have seemingly begun to focus completely on the test (performance on the HCAHPS domains). This is not an impractical route to take (in fact we at The Beryl Institute are launching a series of interactive dialogues for members on these very topics), except that every other hospital aware of the ramifications of inaction are at least doing the same thing. The dilemma this poses is that if reimbursement through VBP is based on comparative measures to your peer organizations and everyone is prepping for the same test, what are you going to do to distinguish yourself?
Month one of the initial nine-month performance period is complete. In essence, the first inning is over and the question this raises is what have you done to move beyond simply increasing performance on the key HCAHPS domains? (Note I said moving beyond, not overlooking.) We have suggested, along with many others, that patient experience success is grounded in broader cultural improvements, in engaging your workforce in positive solutions and in finding new and powerful ways to involve patients in your delivery of service, before, during and after care. At the Institute we have gone as far as to suggest you need to consider such components of your patient experience process, from people’s first encounter with you through a scheduling experience to their post clinical interactions when dealing with the revenue cycleand collection process. It also encompasses the programs you initiate such as Patient and Family Councils, the processes you implement such as experience mapping or the important considerations you give to cultural competence.While the domains being tested and tied to VBP drive you to look at internal issues, it is important to recognize that the respondents to these surveys – the patients and their families – are assessing you on encounters well beyond their clinical experience at the bedside. With that you still have an opportunity to distinguish yourself. Take some time to examine the results you have achieved so far and consider areas in which you can create broader opportunities for patient experience impact. You will find that by in engaging beyond the test, you can achieve even stronger and lasting results.
Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D.
The Beryl Institute