For so many years, healthcare providers assumed that if they provided great clinical care, “bedside manner” (as it used to be called) could be a secondary priority. But over the last few years, the emphasis has been shifting. The Chief Medical Officer for University of Chicago Medicine “suggests that the medical center has had an almost singular focus on improving clinical quality, possibly at the expense of patient satisfaction.” This is evident in UCM’s HCAHPS scores which were below average for several care behaviors last year, despite the organization’s decrease in patient infection rates.

Clinical care, patient safety, and great outcomes are still extremely important, but there has been an increase in an organization’s willingness to look at how that care is being delivered and how the total experience is being perceived by the patient.

As shown in a national study conducted two years ago by Catalyst Health Research on The State of the Patient Experience in American Hospitals, there has been widespread activity directed at improving the overall experience and raising the almighty HCAHPS scores. Efforts to reduce noise, manage pain, and generally be more responsive to patient and family concerns are mentioned as key initiatives. To make this happen, rounding is now commonplace, as are revamped hiring and training programs.

More fundamentally, beyond just mounting specific initiatives to address specific HCAHPS domains (such as pain management), hospitals and health systems are trying to re-tool their cultures.

The latest evidence for this comes from a recent study by HealthLeaders. Based on responses from healthcare leaders across the country, 31% ranked “patient experience and satisfaction” as their organization’s number one priority for the next three years vs. 18% who ranked “clinical quality and safety” as most important. Honing in on CEOs within this sample, the survey found that 21% of CEOs rank “patient experience and satisfaction” as top priority and 9% are focused on “clinical quality and safety.”

Wendy Solberg, VP of quality and patient safety at Baptist Health System in San Antonio was quoted in the August issue of HealthLeaders stating, “Patients expect hotel-like service, with the food and people responding to their calls. We have to be able to do that.”

In the clincher, David Fox, President of Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Chicago shares, “We have gotten very focused on who gets to work here and how we train them in terms of customer service. We used to hire for skill and pray for attitude and cultural fit. Now we screen for skill, hire for cultural fit and attitude.”

That certainly sounds like a shift in priorities, designed to drive a change in culture. Time will tell.

(Quotations and statistics cited from “Trying to Win Over Patients” featured in the August issue of HealthLeaders. Read the full article here.)

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