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Why Patient Satisfaction is More Than “Making Patients Happy”

Patient satisfaction must center on meeting patient needs when and where they need it, ultimately improving care outcomes and the patient experience.

Patient satisfaction efforts need to shift away from simply “making patients happy,” to delivering individualized treatment to optimize care. These efforts cannot be about improving everything for every patient, but delivering the right thing for the right patient when and where they need it.

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According to Deirdre Mylod, PhD, Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation and Senior Vice President of Research and Analytics at Press Ganey, this process starts with improving care outcomes that affect the patient experience.

“The way that we approach improvement for patient experience measures is to reframe it. The exercise is not to make consumers happy. The exercise is to reduce patient suffering,” Mylod said in an interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com.

Mylod explained that there are two kinds of patient suffering, and both are tied to improving patient experience.

First, there is inherent suffering. This is suffering that comes simply from having a disease because the disease itself might hurt, it might create limitations for patients, or patients might suffer because they are inherently scared about their future.

These negative feelings can occur even if care and treatment are executed flawlessly, Mylod explained. It is a provider’s job to try to mitigate some of this suffering, but also accept that it may be inevitable.

But there is also avoidable suffering, such as causing patients to wait longer than necessary for test results, being disrespectful toward a patient, or patient safety issues. It’s a provider’s job to avoid all of this suffering through better attention to care and patient needs.

For example, nurse call light response, which is also a category under patient satisfaction measures such as HCAHPS, can help create a better patient experience. When nurses are more attentive to when a patient can’t reach something or needs to use the restroom, it can reduce fall rates. This is key to patient safety and a smooth road to recovery.

While many nurses keep track of how well they answer call button alerts, Mylod says they can take it a step further. For example, nursing staff can proactively create a schedule to check in on their patients.

“They can go in on an hourly basis to make sure that patients have what they need, to make sure that things are in reach, if they need to go to the bathroom, what their pain is like,” Mylod explained. “It proactively meets patient needs so they don’t need to push the call button.”

Mylod also emphasized the importance of care coordination and teamwork in improving patient experience measures and quality outcomes.

“As a patient, when one team member tells me one thing and somebody else tells me another, now I’m afraid and I’m thinking you’re not working together, so I’m more scared than I need to be in a hospital,” Mylod said, noting that better teamwork is an important step to reducing avoidable suffering.

On top of that, improving care coordination has an effect on patient satisfaction scores. According to Press Ganey research, patients who perceive strong teamwork are more likely to give nines and tens on HCAHPS surveys than those who do not perceive care coordination.

Providing patients with consistent quality healthcare information can likewise boost outcomes by helping patients better engage with their own care, self-manage, and ultimately get better faster.

“Patients have a need for information,” Mylod explained. “It’s not just making consumers happy to meet that need, it’s also providing the right care. When you give people the right information, they can engage in care, they can be active participants, they’re better prepared to care for themselves at home, they’re less likely to be readmitted.”

Pushing this notion further, Mylod said hospitals should consider creating certain areas of care for individual patient populations to meet their specific needs.

“When you can group patients together and all patients come to the same place, and the team that’s caring for those patients are all in the same place, that’s where you’re much better able to meet patient needs,” Mylod said. “You’re caring for the same type of patient and the team members are all focused on that type of patient and the outcomes that are important to them.”

For example, hospitals can establish breast centers for cancer patients.

“Instead of having all cancer patients going through a similar process, you figure out and you understand that when people have breast cancer, there is a certain path that they take and you form a breast center that allows people to get mammograms quickly, have them read quickly, get treatment quickly, and have this all collocated,” she explained.

These efforts are about doing not all things for all patients, but the right things for the right patients. When taking this multidisciplinary and team-based approach, providers acknowledge what one patient population needs that another does not, and offer specific patient experiences from there.

Going forward, it’s one of Mylod’s goals to help the entire healthcare industry to understand that this is a critical path forward when it comes to patient experience.

“When we say patient experience, it’s not in addition to quality, it’s not if we have time after we’ve gotten care right,” she said. “Patient experience is that safety and quality. It is what patients think of their care. It’s how efficient and effective care is.”

“My personal goal is for the entire industry to embrace the idea that what we’re doing when we take care of patients is reducing their suffering,” she concluded. “So that means the patient experience measures are integral for understanding the quality of that process.”

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