Patient satisfaction has been garnering an increasing amount of attention, since healthcare began its shift to a value-based, more patient-centric system. In an effort to measure “value” as opposed to volume, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) have begun implementing the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) surveys to track the level of satisfaction among recently discharged patients. Patients rate their hospital stay in 27 categories, which range from communication with doctors and nurses to pain management to facility cleanliness and quietness. Based in large part on these scores, hospitals can either lose or gain up to 2% of their Medicare reimbursement payments. This percentage is expected to continue increasing along with the expansion of Medicare (an ACA mandate.) By implementing HCAHPS surveys, along with other qualitative measurement tools, CMS encourages healthcare providers and administrators to go beyond the moral imperative to provide high quality care by withholding reimbursement for subpar patient satisfaction.
There are a number of strategies to improve patient satisfaction scores, most of which emphasize improving practice and hospital environment. This costly method, however, may very well do the opposite. As Brenda E. Sirovich, MD, MS, of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Virginia, explains, recent studies infer that efforts to cater to patient satisfaction may be ill guided, because by “implicitly encouraging health care providers to honor requests for (or to explicitly offer) discretionary health care services, such efforts may lead to overutilization, higher costs, and worse outcomes.”
Increasingly, patient surveys are pointing to the successes of an underutilized method which has potential to benefit both patient and practitioner: in-hospital patient education. Providing patients with educational content during their hospital stay can be very empowering, comforting, and effective, especially when the content can be accessed digitally post-discharge. Hospitals are often fast paced and hectic, with nursing staff juggling many patients and core measure procedures simultaneously. Given this burden placed on staff, they may not be able to spend adequate time educating the patient on their recent diagnosis and necessary steps post-discharge, which can leave the patient feeling lost, ultimately decreasing their confidence with the practitioner and lowering their satisfaction of this experience overall. Targeted, comprehensive educational programming for hospitals is a cost-effective way to provide vital information to patients during and after their hospital stay.
Such programming provides a wide range of information channels applicable to patients in many different areas, from heart disease and aging, to new and expectant parents. First, it has the potential to free up vital time of physicians and nurses by providing patients information they would spend considerable time sharing. Considering that communication between patients and practitioners is a major pillar of HCAHPS scoring, quality educational aids have the potential to greatly increase this score and improve patient satisfaction.
Second, it allows the patients to be more informed about their condition and overall health. In a study conducted by The Wellness Network, the healthcare education company found that 84% of respondents felt that the information they received from their hospital’s patient education channel made their hospital stay better. The study also revealed that 100% of patients found the programming to be educational, while it helped 99% learn and retain information about important health issues. This approachable, yet in-depth information allows the patient to have a far better understanding of their condition, and provides them the opportunity to ask key questions that they would have otherwise not known to ask.
Finally, an in-room patient education channel provides patients confidence in knowing that they are aware of their condition and how to appropriately care for themselves. The Wellness Network research found that 71% of patients felt the information garnered through their hospital’s patient education channel made their condition less intimidating. They also noted that 72% of patients felt more favorably toward the hospital and staff if they offered access to an in-room patient education network. In addition to informing patients of their condition, the channel also provides vital lifestyle and care management strategies which will optimize their health and longevity. 69% of those surveyed said they would be more motivated to stay on a treatment regimen after viewing the channel. 73% say that they would change or start a diet plan based on information gleaned from the channel. These startlingly positive results have undeniable implications for both the patient and the hospital: approachable, comprehensive patient education tools allow the patient to lead a healthier lifestyle while decreasing their likelihood of returning to the hospital for preventable ailments.
Patient-centric healthcare does not have to be a burden for hospitals and practitioners to bear. Patient education programs that span from the hospital room to digital platforms post-discharge are a cost-effective way to inform patients on healthy lifestyle changes and health management, while improving satisfaction ratings. Educating patients allows them to confidently manage their health, in turn reducing the rate of return visits, which frees up vital time and resources for hospitals and practitioners alike, while improving patient satisfaction scores, maximizing Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.