The invitation above likely evokes images of dancing cutlery in the Disney classic, “Beauty and the Beast.” These days, one is just as likely to feel like a valued guest when entering healthcare facilities across the nation – as you are at a five star resort! The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) requires healthcare providers to publically report data on how well they are meeting or exceeding patients’ needs and expectations. The survey looks beyond the traditional focus of patient satisfaction surveys to explore aspects of the care experience important to patients.

Using 27 questions required by HCAHPS, the intent is to tease out the perception of care beyond the purely technical aspects of hospitalization.  Respondents are queried about their experiences with:

  • Communication with doctors and nurses
  • Responsiveness of hospital staff
  • Hospital environment (cleanliness, noise levels, etc.)

Now that federal payments will soon be tied to both the quality of patient care delivered and the patient’s and family’s perception of and satisfaction with that care, providers are doing everything in their power to court and retain patients and their families. With millions of dollars and their reputation at risk, this is not a task taken lightly by healthcare providers.

Responding to this very real need, in 2011 the Disney Institute for Healthcare Leadership launched a new program specifically designed for healthcare: “Building a Culture of Healthcare Excellence.” At that time, Disney Institute consultant Patrick Jordan, a former healthcare executive, said this of the initiative: “Our program helps hospitals and healthcare organizations focus more on the overall patient experience, rather than just clinical outcomes. This is incredibly important for building a culture of excellence.”

While the Disney Institute has been successful in assisting many facilities with improving both patient and employee satisfaction, they are not alone in driving change. Increasing consumer pressures, media coverage, competition from surrounding facilities as well as the very definite impact upon bottom-line, are driving healthcare executives to be creative and innovative in both services planning and facility design.

A recent article, “Room service comes to your hospital bed,” profiles the efforts of two North Carolina hospitals that have adopted “hotel-style room service” meals in order to increase patient satisfaction. Jim Brody, director of food and nutrition at Rex Hospital, part of the University of North Carolina Health System, says, “Food service helps the overall [patient] experience.” While meal and food service are not directly addressed on the HCAHPS surveys, the initiative definitely appears to have value. Approximately 84 percent of Rex patients surveyed responded that they would recommend that facility, compared to a nationwide average of just 71 percent. In addition to this patient-satisfaction win, there is an unexpected benefit to this trend. Savings from the waste of unwanted and uneaten food can spiral rapidly into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Food costs at UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill, NC fell by $400,000 in the first year of its new restaurant-style meals. The added benefit of savings such as these can be crucial and help to offset losses from value-based purchasing and readmission penalties. According to Angela Mojica, director of food and nutrition services at UNC: “It’s been a game changer for us.”

Many of the new patient-friendly initiatives employed by facilities are evident as soon as one arrives at the campus. Activities designed to boost satisfaction include but are not limited to the following:

  • Free valet parking
  • Big box store style greeters
  • Facility maps with the needed route outlined
  • Airport style jitneys to take you to your location
  • Snacks and beverages in the waiting areas

Upon arrival to the nursing unit or other area where care will be provided, patients are routinely presented with a book or folder outlining all of the available services available to them and their families during and after their stay. Contact information is also provided for the unit manager, patient representatives and often administration. Pads and pencils are offered, encouraging notes and questions to be jotted down. More often than not, accommodations are even provided and overnight family member visits are encouraged.

Many of these changes are in response to reportable patient-satisfaction scores. Clearly, healthcare provider organizations are keeping closer tabs on real-time data – from patient satisfaction scores to quality measures – and looking to make changes and adjustments in order to remain viable in an increasingly competitive marketplace. In addition, these changes are also the result of years of evolution and redesign in response to feedback from patient satisfaction surveys and community panels. The overarching goal of healthcare is to treat the “whole person” and to provide support and services to ensure they are restored to their optimal level of wellness. Sometimes, “first, do no harm” simply means that the little things that matter are taken care of so the patient and family can heal.

Cathy Gorman-Klug

About Cathy Gorman-Klug

Cathy has over 30 years of experience in healthcare. She has extensive experience in project design, implementation, and management. In her current role as Product Manager, she is responsible for product strategy and product marketing for Nuance’s quality products. Previously, as a Corporate Director of Privacy and Data Security, she was responsible for compliance with requirements imposed by HIPAA, and other regulatory and accreditation standards for an integrated health system with over 7,000 employees. She holds a Master’s of Science in Nursing Administration from Seton Hall University.