No hospital needs to be convinced that patient satisfaction is extremely important. Just at a quick glance, high HCAHPS scores benefit the hospital’s bottom line, aid in the recruitment and retention of clinical staff, and increase the likelihood of long-term patient loyalty.

But achieving high scores isn't a simple matter. It involves several driving forces that affect outcomes for patients, providers, and organizations alike—and it requires healthcare leaders to engage clinical staff in initiatives that will spur those forces forward.

Which aspects of patient satisfaction can health systems and providers easily influence?

  1. The patient’s previous experience
  2. Hiring the best doctors and nurses
  3. Providing compassionate care
  4. Building a strong reputation
  5. Getting a family/friend recommendation

In this post, we take a deeper look at initiatives your organization can use to impact these five drivers of patient satisfaction.   

Four Strategies to Improve Patient Satisfaction

1. Cater to Consumerism

Rising out-of-pocket costs for healthcare have turned patients into consumers who approach healthcare services with greater cost-awareness. Thanks to information freely available on the internet, such as online ratings and reviews, combined with recommendations from friends, family, and social network connections, patients are making more informed choices.

According to healthcare expert Nicholas Webb, health systems are now joining the "89 percent of companies that expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience."

That is not to suggest hospitals experience consumerism in the same way as, say, a restaurant or retail store. However, according to Becker's Jeff Blake, that's where healthcare should be going.

"When compared to that of the restaurant industry, customer satisfaction in healthcare is discouragingly low," Blake says in the article. "Imagine a restaurant that focused only on the quality of the food; even if the cuisine was exceptional, customers would soon abandon the establishment for competitors offering comparable meals and a superior experience."

A physician's top priority is to make the correct diagnosis and provide an evidence-based, efficacious treatment plan. But patients also expect to be treated with dignity, respect, and empathy regarding emotional concerns. With HCAHPS scores on the line, a physician cannot afford to heal patients well without attempting to make them happy at the same time. 

How should providers address this consumerism mindset in the hospital setting?

Mark Olivier, MD, Risk Management Medical Advisor for SCP Health, proposes that hospitals adopt a balanced view and treat the person as both patient and customer.

"The more vertical a person is, the more he/she is a customer," Olivier said. "The more horizontal the person, the more he/she is a patient. We must recognize that each person has some component of both. By acknowledging the person is a customer, as well as a patient, we uphold his/her right to personalized service and, hopefully, meet his expectations."

2. Tap into the Cycle of Happy Providers and Happy Patients 

According to Press Ganey’s Healthcare Satisfaction Report, "empirical evidence leads to the conclusion that increases in employee satisfaction are associated with increases in patient satisfaction."

But is the opposite also true? Does greater patient satisfaction (and higher HCAHPS scores that come as a result) positively impact employee satisfaction and stress levels? 

“It is important for clinicians to remember to look for the joys in the work we do,” explains Dr. Stephen Nichols, Chief Clinical Operations Officer at SCP Health. “Joy can come in many forms, from the smile on a patient’s face after doing something as small as giving them a blanket, to the rush you feel after saving a trauma patient’s life. When you take time to step out of your role as a ‘fixer’ and provide a human touch to your patient’s experience you will often remember why you chose a career in healthcare – and, that will improve your own satisfaction.”     

It's somewhat of a chicken-egg situation, but it doesn’t really matter which ‘comes first.’ Provider and patient satisfaction are two sides of the same coin—so creating a positive impact on one will always drive meaningful change in the other.

3. Reinforce the Correlation of Patient Satisfaction with Clinical Quality Metrics

Patients who express satisfaction with their healthcare experience are more likely to adhere to treatment plans and keep their relationships with providers long-term. That translates into lower readmission rates, reduced hospital stays, and a reduction in burdens carried by the healthcare system.

A study sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Aligning Forces for Quality (PDF), reinforces that assessment, finding that at both practice and provider levels, patient experience positively correlates to processes of care for disease prevention and management. According to the study, patients with better care experiences are more engaged, adherent, and have better outcomes.

4. Demonstrate Financial Impact

Since 2012, a portion of a health system’s revenue has been tied to its HCAHPS scores. In fact, high patient experience scores can boost a hospital's net margins by as much as 50 percent, according to a recent Accenture study

"Hospitals in the U.S. that provided a 'superior' patient experience gained net margins that were 50 percent higher, on average, than those that deliver an 'average' customer experience," the study reported. 

The study's findings, which compared six years of hospital margin data with HCAHPS scores, found that hospital margins and revenues among the top HCAHPS performers are growing at an above-average rate, with income growth outpacing operating expenses in these hospitals.

“Patients are increasingly shopping for healthcare services, seeking the best possible overall experience when they need care,” said Jean-Pierre Stephan, managing director of Accenture’s Health customer relationship management offerings. “As a result, leading hospitals are growing profitability not by cutting costs, but by improving the patient experience and satisfaction.”

Conclusion

Hospitals are well aware of the impact patient satisfaction has on reimbursement but may lack a complete understanding of the factors that influence positive outcomes. The initiatives discussed shed light on how organizations can impact the five drivers of patient satisfaction in meaningful and sustainable ways.  

Related Resources:

Blog: The Role of Customer Satisfaction in Patient Care
White Paper: The Lifetime Value of Patient Loyalty
Guide: 9 Steps Providers Can Take to Influence Patient Loyalty