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Improving the Patient Experience

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, September 13, 2011
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At Lehigh Valley Health Network’s two hospitals, teams are trying to improve patient experience scores, especially for one metric that for them seems the toughest: reducing noise levels around patients’ rooms.

“We’re the largest trauma center in Pennsylvania, with four helicopters coming in and out, and it’s pretty hard to overcome that,” says Anthony J. Ardire, MD, Lehigh’s senior vice president for quality and patient safety. “I don’t want to rationalize our scores, but that’s the reality.”

Lehigh, 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia, has replaced metal plates in the doors that banged whenever they opened or closed, stopped playing the Brahms’ “Lullaby” whenever a new baby was born at night, no longer uses the overhead pager to request wheelchairs be returned to the ED, and stopped 5-minute alerts when a trauma patient was incoming. Nurses now distribute earplugs so patients can get a better night’s sleep.

Teams also make sure patients realize the hospital’s trauma status translates to high-quality services in many specialty areas, so patients will even appreciate the helicopters’ noise.

Since taking those and many other steps, “We’ve moved our scores up some, and we’re closer to the national average,” Ardire says. “In fact, Lehigh improved its noise scores by 24% in both facilities from the second quarter to the third quarter.”

There’s a lot of money at stake. 

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires that Medicare reduce FY 2013 payments for about 3,500 acute care hospitals by 1% of their diagnosis-related group amounts, or about $850 million. They can earn that money back and more, however, if their scores exceed those of their competitors.

For Lehigh Valley’s 950-bed system, the amount of potential loss translates to about $2 million.  

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