For hospitals and health systems, patient satisfaction is likely to become an increasingly important source of competitive advantage. Yet many providers cannot measure the patient experience comprehensively, an important first step in improving it.
Health systems that want to use patient satisfaction as a way to improve business performance need additional feedback and data to identify the factors that matter most to the patients they serve. Armed with the combined information, the health systems can then determine which investments in improving the patient experience can best help them meet their business objectives.
To date, few health systems have achieved significant business results through patient-experience initiatives. Yet, growing consumerism in the healthcare industry – a result of higher deductibles and copayments, network narrowing, and greater transparency into provider performance and costs – is likely to make patient-experience initiatives more of an imperative for the industry.
The first step for health systems is to determine the business outcomes they most want to focus on (e.g., total patient volume, patient retention, percentage of commercial patients). They should then conduct research to investigate the types of questions that will best enable them to gauge patient satisfaction in a way that ties into those objectives.
Next, health systems should conduct additional research to identify the factors that most strongly influence how patients respond to the chosen questions and the specific metrics that would enable them to assess performance in those areas. Over time, the combined data should permit the health systems to develop robust measurement systems that can uncover operational insights and enable continuous frontline improvements. To ensure that the measurement systems remain robust, health systems should repeat this fundamental research every few years so that their understanding of the patient experience is always current.
To determine which factors most strongly influence patient satisfaction, health systems must accurately understand the end-to-end inpatient journey. This ranges from pre-admission scheduling and testing to follow-up care, as well as the role that price, service offerings, physician referrals, and brand play in determining where patients seek care (http://healthcare.mckinsey.com/measuring-patient-experience-lessons-other-industries, retrieved on 7 September 2016).
As an example, the William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center which opened in December 2014 and was awarded for its significant improvements in quality and accountability, attributes much of our success to making patients and frontline health care professionals the true architects of the project. The hospital asked about patients’ specific needs — what worked well and what could be better. They learned that leaving the hospital through a main entrance, at a time when most people don’t feel or look their best, was often embarrassing for patients – they therefore designed a separate discharge exit with designated parking and a pathway that avoids public spaces. Family members asked for comfortable furniture in patients’ rooms – so they placed all the furniture options in our existing hospitals for several months and had families vote on their preferences. People wondered why digital connectivity, present in nearly every facet of life, is often lacking in medical settings – so they developed an application that allows for secure videoconferencing with family, friends, or a hometown physician via a large, interactive flat screen installed in each patient’s room (How Our Community Designed a Better Hospital, by John J. Warner, 7 December 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/12/how-our-community-designed-a-better-hospital, retrieved on 7 September 2016).