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Nurse Leaders' Top Concerns: Patient Experience, Quality Care

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   February 15, 2011

Patient satisfaction scores will soon be tied to reimbursement and the change has shifted everyone's attention to patient experience. Nurse executives have placed the issue at the top of their priorities list for 2011, according to the just-released HealthLeaders Media 2011 Annual Survey.

The survey asked healthcare leaders across the board to rank their top three priorities for the year. Nurse executives placed patient experience/patient satisfaction at the top, followed by quality/patient safety, and cost reduction.

The result differs from CEOs, who placed cost reduction at the top of the priorities list, followed by quality/patient safety second, and reimbursement third. Patient experience and satisfaction came in at number four on the list.

This indicates that it is nursing leaders who bear much of the responsibility for ensuring the organization provides a positive patient experience and for keeping tabs on quality and patient safety issues.

Patient experience is an interesting topic that's guaranteed to engender strong emotions. Cheryl Clark explored this topic for HealthLeaders last month in a piece titled "How Grumpy Patients Can Cost Hospitals Big Bucks." She said hospitals in some areas of the country are concerned they may be unfairly penalized for their region's collective personality. While it may be a sit-com stereotype to think that everyone in New York loves to complain, loudly, while people in the South are polite and easily pleased, some argue that regional characteristics will affect scores.

Others believe excellent patient care is reflected in good scores, no matter where in the country the organization is located, while poor experiences will be reflected whether the regional character is "suffer in silence" or "I deserve better."

It won't make a bit of difference where you're located, however, if hospital executives don't find a way to communicate the organization's commitment to improving experience to the people who really make the difference, from the nursing staff to the janitors.

All staff should receive training in communicating with patients and visitors so they know what acceptable and unacceptable interactions look like. How many poor-scoring surveys feature comments about just one staff member? An interaction with someone who is perceived to be rude, unhelpful, or just uncaring can ruin a patient's perception of what was flawless care.

I'm not saying that everyone has to subscribe to Disney-levels of plastered on smiles and "the sun always shines" fake sincerity. Rather that delivering a meal tray without a word and not making eye contact with the patient in the bed should be a thing of the past. As should not introducing oneself to patients with name and job title. There are basic levels of customer service that shouldn't have to be taught, but that may need teaching.

Above all, people need to understand how the commitment to patient experience ties into the organization's overarching goals for safe, quality patient care for all. And how every person's job contributes to the same goals.

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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