Hospitals aim to increase focus on patient experience
July 23, 2015 12:00 AM
“The industry has changed,” said Amy Ranier, director of patient experience at UPMC, adding that everyone who visits a UPMC facility receives a survey now.
By Steve Twedt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If you’ve ever wondered how seriously hospitals take those patient surveys they send after you go home, consider this: In the past nine months, both the Allegheny Health Network and UPMC have created executive positions responsible for overseeing “the patient experience.”
“The industry has changed,” said Amy Ranier, director of patient experience at UPMC, adding that everyone who visits a UPMC facility receives a survey now. “How else are we going to know how we’re doing?”
Bonnie Irvin, vice president of patient experience at AHN, said her responsibilities involve working with all AHN facilities, including ambulatory care centers, physicians, nurses, dietary, environmental services and just about every other job category to make a patient’s trip to the health system as convenient and pleasant as possible — or at least as pleasant as any hospital visit can be.
“Nobody wants to sit in a waiting room for hours, obviously,” she said, but good communication matched with a healthy dose of dignity and compassion can go a long way toward patients feeling better as they get better.
“It differentiates you. It’s what allows patients to feel like they’re in a different kind of facility,” she said. “It’s hard for patients to judge quality in some cases, but they can certainly judge whether they were treated with kindness and respect.”
How patients feel about their stay has become more than a public relations exercise for hospitals. In the most direct sense, patient surveys can affect how much hospitals receive for treating Medicare patients, amounting to “a couple of million dollars” for Allegheny Health Network, said Mrs. Irvin.
But the two administrators and other local hospital officials say closer attention to the patient experience goes well beyond any financial consideration.
“There’s probably a greater focus on it over the last three or four years, certainly over the last five years,” said Donna Ramusivich, senior vice president at Monongahela Valley Hospital in Monongahela, Washington County. “What is important for everyone to remember is that health care is a service industry, and it’s not always looked at that way. We certainly look at it that way.”
It’s not always easy to provide resort-style service in a hospital full of people who aren’t feeling well.
“There are things that are just hard to change and to change people’s impressions,” said Jane Montgomery, vice president for clinical services and quality at the Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania, which represents the region’s hospitals.
“Patients get upset if they’re woken at night. Or, if you’re not allowed to eat as part of your treatment, it’s hard to get people to understand those things. Noise in a hospital is always an issue,” she said.
There also is a healing component to a satisfying patient experience, she said. If medication and other after-care instructions are communicated well, for example, the patient is more likely to comply.
Mon Valley has what they call a “daily huddle” where they discuss survey results, she said. “The comments that mean the most is that when they come here, they feel like family.”
In April, Healthgrades, the Denver-based ratings company, placed Mon Valley among the top 5 percent nationally “for providing outstanding patient experience” for the third straight year based on factors such as communication with patients, cleanliness and noise level and discharge instructions.
St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon also scores well on “patient experience,” ranking in the 99th percentile among local hospitals by Press Ganey, the leading survey vendor among local hospitals.
“We really value and take very seriously the patient feedback,” said chief nursing officer Joan Massella. “When we look at our responses, we look for trends. We try to see where we’re making progress, where we’re holding steady and where we’re dropping. … We really try to drill down.”
The hospital also convenes focus groups of recent patients to discuss their stay, and no topic is too trivial. As just one example, Ms. Massella said, “We try to be a little more conscious about meal times. There are not many decisions a patient can make in the hospital so, if they are able to eat, food is very important to them.”
While even the least consequential complaints can prompt action, the surveys show that patients are most concerned about their interaction with providers, particularly nurses, said UPMC’s Ms. Ranier.
“No matter what, they want to be treated with respect, they want to be listened to, and certainly the clinical piece has to be there,” she said.
Steve Twedt: email@example.com or 412-263-1963.
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