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To Boost Patient Satisfaction Scores, Engage Nurses

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   January 04, 2011

Patient satisfaction is on everyone’s minds in 2011 as we face the prospect that these scores will start to affect reimbursement. Senior leadership is paying more attention than ever before and will turn to the nursing department to ask, “What are we doing about patient satisfaction?”

Trouble is, mention patient satisfaction to a group of nurses and you’re likely to be greeted by groans and eye rolling. Nursing staff already have so many tasks to complete they don’t want new ones added to their already overstretched days. When administrators say to put patient satisfaction high on the priority list, nurses counter that delivering care and keeping their patients safe is far more important. A hospital is not a luxury hotel after all, and many unpleasant things happen to patients while in the hospital. By definition, no one should enjoy their stay.

What these conversations often miss, however, is that nurses are already doing the things that make the difference in patient satisfaction. When they hold the hand of a frightened, hurting patient in the middle of the night; when they explain a complex treatment regimen in a way the patient understands; when they change a dressing with care and tenderness; when they crack a joke that makes a patient laugh.

I was reminded of this when reading Dana Jennings post on The New York Times’ Well blog last week called “In Praise of Nurses.” Jennings writes that throughout his lengthy hospitalizations, it was nurses who he liked most.

“To generalize: Nurses are warm, whereas doctors are cool. Nurses act like real people; doctors often act like aristocrats. Nurses look you in the eye; doctors stare slightly above and to the right of your shoulder.”

Nurses find whatever time they can spare so they can interact with their patients and the organization should recognize the value of these interactions. Too often, hospitals haven’t been talking about patient satisfaction with their staff in the right way.

There needs to be a shift in the conversation:

  • Try focusing on the innate nursing qualities that mean so much to patients and that make the difference between a good stay and a bad one.
  • Help nurses understand that patient satisfaction scores are not dependent on whether the TV shows HBO or the nursing staff act as waitresses.
  • Convey to nurses the idea that asking them to focus on patient satisfaction is not about adding tasks to their day; rather, it is valuing what nurses already do and helping them find ways to do more of the good stuff.

Changing the nature of the conversation and involving nursing in the solutions may make more difference to patients emotional and physical care—and thus the patient satisfaction scores—than any gourmet food tray ever could.

Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at

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