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Improving Patient Satisfaction, Communication in 5 Minutes

The communication strategy helps patients feel more valued as humans, increasing their patient satisfaction scores without increasing provider workload.

patient satisfaction communication

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Improving patient satisfaction in the hospital setting can take as little as five minutes, according to researchers from the University of Virginia Health System.

Using five minutes to discuss patient well-being and symptoms is enough to improve patient satisfaction with their care, said the research team led by UVA associate professor and clinical psychologist Claudia Allen, JD, PhD.

Allen developed Background, Affect, Trouble, Handling, and Empathy (BATHE) at UVA to help train medical residents in clinician empathy and meaningful patient-provider conversations.

“The intervention invites the patient to talk about whatever is important to him or her, and prompts the physician to express empathy and elicit positive coping,” Allen and colleagues wrote in an article in Family Medicine. “In outpatient settings, BATHE has been found to improve patient satisfaction without significantly increasing time spent per office visit.”

Patients share more than just concerns about their physical and medical well-being, Allen explained. During BATHE interventions, patients often share psychosocial issues that can contribute to the overall patient experience. Physician empathy in these situations is key, Allen said.

READ MORE: Patient Satisfaction and HCAHPS: What It Means for Providers

While BATHE has proven successful in outpatient settings, little is known about its efficacy in inpatient settings.

An analysis at the UVA Health System revealed that BATHE can be successful in the inpatient setting, just as it has been proven effective in outpatient settings.

Patients receiving care with daily BATHE briefings were far more likely to rate their satisfaction levels as excellent than those patients in the control group, Allen and her team found.

In discharge patient satisfaction surveys, BATHE intervention patients rated their care 4.12 out of 5 possible points, compared to only 3.26 for control group patients.

Control patients rated their dissatisfaction at 3.33 out of five points, compared to 1.69 out of 5 points for intervention patients.

READ MORE: Why Patient Satisfaction is More Than “Making Patients Happy”

When justifying their responses, intervention patients did not suggest that more time spent with their providers resulted in the higher patient satisfaction scores, Allen and team found.

“Patients in the intervention group were not more likely to perceive that their physician spent adequate time with them, showed them respect, or communicated well about their care,” the researchers said. “Rather, they were more likely to report that their physician was friendly and showed a ‘genuine interest in me as a person.’ The added value of the intervention appears to have been to create a daily moment where the physician acknowledged the patient as a whole person rather than solely as a medical patient.”

The study did not explicitly measure the amount of time spent between intervention patients and providers, which is an area for further research, Allen said.

However, previous BATHE research indicated that intervention patients in an outpatient setting did not spend more time with their providers or have longer appointments. If that trend continues in the inpatient setting, this intervention presents a significant opportunity for clinicians to improve patient satisfaction with little increased workflow burden.

"BATHE includes an entry and an exit script," Allen said in a statement. "You can spend three minutes doing it or you can spend an hour doing it."

READ MORE: Nurse Communication, Teamwork to Boost Care Experience Scores

Clinicians will rarely be able to spend an hour during these discussions, but that open-ended nature will make it easier for clinicians to adopt BATHE into their workflows.

"The beauty of the intervention is that it doesn't ask doctors to do anything radically different or add something totally extra," Allen concluded. "It just tweaks what they're already doing to make it significantly more effective."

Clinicians rarely forgo patient interactions because they are unwilling to converse with patients, or do not find interpersonal relationships valuable in medicine. Instead, many clinicians face huge workflow barriers, saying they don’t have the time to dedicate to relationship-building and empathic conversations with patients.

Other healthcare professionals have drawn similar conclusions to Allen’s research. Press Ganey Chief Nursing Officer Christie Dempsey, MSN, CNOR, CENP, has developed a 56-second strategy for improving nursing communications and patient satisfaction.

“When I talk about making a connection with patients and the six themes of compassionate, connected care, nobody ever argues against it,” Dempsey said in a previous interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com. “Everybody wants to do that. The pushback is always not having the time. Nurses say, ‘you must be joking if you think I can spend 15 to 20 minutes with every patient.’”

It doesn’t have to be that time-consuming, Dempsey has found. The CNO works to identify a commonality between herself and her patient from the get-go, and then integrates that into further communications, ensuring to be sincere the entire time.

Other research has suggested that making a connection with a patient can be as simple as sitting down. A 2017 study found that nurses who sit down next to patients while talking – and acknowledging that connection – yield a much higher patient satisfaction rate than those who do not.

Evidence is suggesting that it is the quality, not quantity, of time spent between patients and providers that can have a positive impact on satisfaction scores. Healthcare professionals looking to improve patient satisfaction should focus on driving clinician empathy and making meaningful connections with patients.

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