5 Ways To...

Karen Wagner

In a value-based environment, healthcare payers are scrutinizing not only the quality of care that hospitals and health systems provide, but also how they deliver that care. Here, Wendy Leebov, EdD, president and CEO, Leebov Golde Group, a patient experience consulting firm, discusses how hospitals can provide first-class service while significantly strengthening their bottom lines.

Go bowling. A shotgun approach to achieving a goal involves taking aim at one target after another. A bowler, on the other hand, aims for the center pin that will knock down the other pins behind it. For hospitals and health systems, this analogy translates to improving one factor on the HCAHPS survey that has an impact on all the others. "The good news is we know what that one factor is: caring communication," Leebov says. "When you effectively strengthen the communication of caring on the part of all staff, you elevate scores on several HCAHPS items at once." For example, to better connect with patients, caregivers should not multitask; rather, they should give their patients undivided attention, she says.

Implement best practices fully, not half-heartedly. Hospitals should verify that caregivers are engaging in best practices with a focus on quality and not just going through the motions. For example, hourly rounding is often performed ineffectively. "Sometimes, nurses will poke their heads in the door of a patient's room and ask, 'Need anything?' Then, they're quickly on their way," Leebov says. "That is not really hourly rounding. Effective hourly rounding involves entering the room, connecting with the patient, tuning in fully, and asking several questions that will reveal needs, such as 'How can I make you more comfortable right now?'"

Share the financial benefits of meeting patient experience targets. Hospitals should use gainsharing to reward employees when targets are met. For example, because every member of the healthcare team affects HCAHPS scores-which, in turn, affect payment-staff should receive a reward, such as a bonus, when HCAHPS scores improve. "Engage every employee in the rewards of improving the patient experience," Leebov says.

Use finance staff as role models of caring communication. Finance staff should receive help to improve their communication skills through a formal skills-building program. "All finance staff need to be concerned about the level of customer service they provide, whether they provide customer service directly or indirectly," Leebov says. "Healthcare finance professionals either serve patients or serve the people who do. The more they communicate well with patients or with the people who do work with patients, the better they're going to be able to take care of patients' needs."

Recognize that improvement initiatives require investment. Some financial executives consider patient experience strategies to be soft and resist funding them, while spending extensively on other strategies. Of course, it is important to apply stringent criteria to investments in such strategies, but success requires financial support. Implementing a training program or paying staff for time spent on training activities is worth the investment, Leebov says.

Karen Wagner is a healthcare freelance writer, Forest Lake, Ill. (klw@klw.ms).


Publication Date: Monday, April 02, 2012

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