Managing the patient experience means paying attention to every aspect of the patient’s interaction with your healthcare system, from admitting through care and discharge, and even after they’ve gone back home. Additionally, details that used to be considered afterthoughts—like menus and room appointments—are integral to a positive patient experience. As hospital administrators often note, a patient can receive great care, but a single rude hospital employee can tarnish their experience and result in reduced patient satisfaction scores.

Fundamentally, improving the patient experience means recognizing that healthcare is a partnership between the patient and the whole constellation of providers and facilities that treat that person. And what’s one of the best ways to create an empowered patient partner? By giving them the tools they need to confidently make decisions about their care. This is where patient education comes in.

Patient education is a crucial tool in patient empowerment because it gives patients the confidence to ask questions, learn about their condition, and ultimately engage in the self-care that is crucial to successful recovery and disease management. Here are a few ways hospitals can use education at key points to increase satisfaction and create empowered patients:

Direct Provider Communication

This should be the gold standard of patient education—having a physician or nurse describe a condition and its treatment offers a personalized touch that almost no other education can approach. However, in reality these brief interactions are fraught with issues. Rush University Medical Center recently participated in a case study on physician/patient communication that demonstrated how challenging this can be. The issue, according to the case study, was low HCAHPS scores, thanks to the challenges of reaching patients who are “confused by the numerous medical personnel they encounter” in the ER, a problem that is amplified in academic hospitals by the presence of trainees. The result was HCAHPS scores that ranked near the bottom nationally.

Rush’s program had several components, including face cards that described the hospitalists’ roles, a best-practices checklist, and staff training to improve two-way communication.[1] Thanks to these changes, the hospital achieved HCAHPS scores that vaulted it into the top half of U.S. hospitals. The key to this success was achieving better two-way communication, which relies on giving the patients enough information about their condition that they can ask informed questions, and then making sure that patient feels heard and understood. In this context, patient education is an excellent vehicle for improved provider communication—provided it’s handled correctly. Ideally, patients will be exposed to education, and then asked about their comprehension or given the opportunity to repeat what they learned (e.g., using the teach-back method), and then follow up with specific questions.

Make the Discharge and Transition Process Smooth

The discharge process is one of the last and best opportunities a hospital system has to create a better patient experience, and education is a crucial part of that process. It’s not uncommon for patients to be given a large packet of information with discharge materials, including education along with prescriptions to fill, appointments to make, and other information. Once again, however, there is frequently considerable confusion surrounding discharge, even including whether nurses or physicians are responsible for providing different elements of discharge education.[2]

From a patient education point of view, there are positive steps you can take to make this sometimes confusing transition easier. The first is to provide discharge education in the patient’s preferred format, whether that’s with text-based materials or by video. It’s also important to track engagement and comprehension at this stage since this education typically provides important instructions the patient will need over the next few days as they transition to successful self-care. This can be done personally, or by using technology that makes it easy to measure engagement. Finally, once a patient does leave the hospital, reaching them at home to reinforce self-care principles and encourage them to fill prescriptions and make follow-up appointments will not only improve patient satisfaction but also help to drive down readmission rates.

Overall, as the patient experience continues to grow and hospital systems take active steps to improve the patient experience, education’s role will only continue to become more important.


References

[1] NEJM Catalyst. How We Improved Hospitalist-Patient Communication. https://catalyst.nejm.org/how-we-improved-hospitalist-patient-communication/

[2] Journal of Hospital Medicine. Communicating discharge instructions to patients: A survey of nurse, intern, and hospitalist practices. https://www.journalofhospitalmedicine.com/jhospmed/article/127199/communicating-discharge-instructions