Patient Experience: Hospitals' Holy Grail?

Steve Whitehurst, for HealthLeaders Media, September 30, 2011

The topic of value-based purchasing regulations, including the emphasis on HCAHPS scores, has been burning up keyboards, email boxes, and phone lines across healthcare. Many providers and professional associations have expressed concern.

However, in an era when we are attempting to align disparate incentives from the old healthcare framework, we need to ask ourselves: How much attention would we give the patient experience if HCAHPS scores were not so heavily weighted?

Gone are the days of focusing on the acute episode of care and getting paid for the number of procedures performed on a patient rather than for improving outcomes. By the same token, gone are the days when no one knew how patients perceived the care they received. With increased transparency, pay for performance ramping up, and social media communications increasing in popularity, the patient experience has become the key differentiator among healthcare providers. Even legislation has elevated its importance.

Under healthcare reform, hospitals will focus on key pay-for-performance measures, including meeting clinical standards, reducing hospital-acquired infections and lowering the 30-day readmission rate. While improving clinical care and protecting the bottom line are critical to the health of patients and the sustainability of hospitals, there may be a temptation to short-change the way patients experience their care, which has always impacted outcomes, and now, the bottom line.

For the initial rollout of the program, there will be 13 measures. While the first measures focus on how well hospitals follow evidence-based practice guidelines, the final measure focuses on how well hospitals enhance the patient experience.

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