Hospitals Increasing Focus on Patient Satisfaction, but Many Questions Remain

HealthLeaders Media Staff, May 13, 2009

Patient satisfaction and patient experience are hot right now. Part of reason is the government's focus on patients' own perceptions of the care they receive, measured through HCAHPS. The public and press have easy access to the results. And because they're standardized, it's easy to see who's doing well—and who's not.

And no one wants to be in the latter category.

Still, a lot of questions remain about how best to measure, manage, and define patient satisfaction.

For starters, healthcare organizations are still trying to figure out how best to measure patient satisfaction. Should you pay attention to HCAHPS data exclusively? Do your own surveys and focus groups? Or hire a vendor to gather and compile additional data for you? Some combination of the above?

Novant Health in Winston-Salem, NC, conducted a year-long experiment in which it focused exclusively on HCAHPS to measure patient satisfaction, Sean Keyser, vice president of organizational improvement said at the recent PRC client education conference in New Orleans. The conclusion: HCAHPS alone wasn't enough to measure all of the different ways that hospitals can impact the patient experience.

Another question hospitals are trying to answer: Who should be in charge of patient satisfaction? Should responsibility be assigned to the very top leaders in the organization? Or should marketing take the helm? Maybe it's a job for the chief quality officer. Maybe you should create a whole new position, as did the Cleveland Clinic when it hired Bridget Duffy to be its chief experience officer.

You can weigh in on the debate by answering the question "Who is ultimately responsible for managing (day-to-day accountability) customer/patient satisfaction?" in an online poll by healthcare marketing executive Reed Smith, who frequently tweets about healthcare marketing.

At press time, marketing was in the lead at 40%. (I'm going to go ahead and guess that's because at least 40% of the respondents are healthcare marketers.)

Finally, there's still lots of confusion over what, exactly, patient satisfaction is. Is it the same as patient experience? Customer service? Service recovery? Patient-centered care? All, some, or none of the above?

There was a healthy debate over these questions on the MarketShare blog recently in response to a post by Mark Tomaszewicz, director of experiences at Starizon, an experience design and staging firm based in Keystone, CO. Read  "The Difference Between Patient-Centered Care and Patient Experience" and make sure to check out the comments at the end.

I'd love for you to add your voice to the discussion, as well.

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