News: Informed Patient: Tying Hospital Payments to Patient Satisfaction

The health care reforms will bring big change for the hospitals, starting in 2012. Check out this blog to see how customer service will impact Medicare hospital payments. -SP

By Laura Landro

Hospitals are scrambling to improve customer service in advance of a change tying Medicare payments to higher scores on patient-satisfaction surveys, today’s Informed Patient column reports.

But improving patient satisfaction means engaging hospital staff in the effort — and changing hospital cultures that haven’t traditionally focused on the patient as a customer. Hospitals are hiring consultants and service coaches to help, training employees to be more responsive, bringing in executives with experience in the hospitality industry, and even tying employee compensation to a hospital’s performance on the satisfaction surveys,  known as HCAHPS.

Take AtlantiCare, a health system with two hospital campuses in southeastern New Jersey. Bush Bell, AtlantiCare’s corporate director of customer experience and a former hotel-industry executive, tells the Health Blog that while the hospital felt it was doing a good job, patient-satisfaction surveys showed “our customers were telling us we had some things to improve on.”

AtlantiCare developed a “strategy map” to help staffers understand how they can support performance excellence — such as following recommended steps when communicating to patients and family members. “Everyone has to ask, ‘What can I as a front-line nurse, doctor or technician do to help the department be successful?’” Bell says. Bonus payments at the hospital are tied not only to financial objectives but to  customer-service scores, and “you get zero bonus if you aren’t successful.”

The Cleveland Clinic, which has styled itself as a leader in the movement, helped form a new Association for Patient Experience and is hosting its third Empathy and Innovation summit next May. More than 40,000 employees have been put through training sessions on delivering the best patient experience, and even staff in the finance department are offered name tags that say “Caregiver.”

James Merlino, a physician who heads the clinic’s Office of Patient Experience, says workers are trained to “take ownership of their domain,” whether it be cleaning the bathrooms or communicating about medications. “We fully believe that cultivating a workforce of highly engaged and satisfied caregivers results in improved patient safety, better clinical outcomes and an enhanced patient experience,” he says.

 

Read the full article at the Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog site.

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