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A Simple Idea with Significant Possibility

Posted By Jason A. Wolf Ph.D. CPXP, Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Recently, a colleague was doing some work in a hospital system and came across the picture you see here. I was immediately intrigued by how this simple act of personal initiative represented such a significant opportunity and potential impact for this facility.

With the most recent public reporting of HCAHPS scores this September (representing data from January – December 2009), the national average "top box” score on the question "what number would you use to rate this hospital?” was only 66%. This means that less than 7 in 10 of your patients rated your facility a 9 or 10. This may not seem to be an issue until you get beneath these numbers. The 2005 National Hospital Service Performance Study by JD Powers and Associates determined that individuals giving a perfect score of 10 in satisfaction measures had an 80% chance of returning to the same facility. From there the opportunity quickly diminishes. For those rating hospitals a 6-7 in satisfaction, only 37% percent say they will return to the same facility again.

In considering these numbers in the context of this picture, I believe there are some choices hospitals and other healthcare organizations can make to begin to develop patient and family engagement and ultimately build a loyalty to their facilities. The simplest, yet potentially most important step is listening to your patients.

We must acknowledge that managing patient experience is not something we simply DO to patients. If we are to be truly successful, we must build our patient experience strategies and efforts WITH patients. By involving patients in creating unparalleled experiences, we ensure they begin to develop a sense of ownership, are more highly engaged and ultimately better connected with a facility. Patients are and should be active participants in their experience, not simply subjects to it.

The picture above is just one example of how a patient directly engaged herself to improve the facility in which she was staying. It represents a clear expectation about how the patient wanted to be cared for. I am sure the hospital had similar signage for its staff, perhaps even in this patient’s very room, but she wanted to emphasize one aspect of the care experience that was critical to her. We have all heard of or experienced similar situations regarding surgical patients marking their own limbs for surgery…”this leg,” or "not this leg.” These are just some of the many examples of patients seeking to improve communication and compliance with their wishes.

My advice to healthcare leadership and staff looking to elevate the patient experience is to start asking patients how they would like to be involved in their care process. I know many facilities today have established patient and family councils, community focus groups and other resources. Yet, while important, these processes deal with macro issues that often take time to influence or change.

If you are looking for a way to act now, it will happen at the individual level, at every point of personal interaction with your patients. Take the time to ask, "Is there something I haven’t covered that you’d like to discuss? Is there anything we can do to make you feel more comfortable about the care plan we’ve developed? What can we do to ensure you have the best experience while you are with us?” or any of many other questions that align with your organization’s experience goals. Some patients may surprise you by putting up a sign. And it is those types of signs we’d better pay attention to if we want to see our scores improve and our customers return. Perhaps it is nothing simpler than that.

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D.
Executive Director
The Beryl Institute

Related Body of Knowledge courses: Patient & Family Centeredness.

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