• Humanizing Health Care to Boost Patient Satisfaction

    Steve Pu and Steve Jackson May 23, 2013

    A rural hospital is fulfilling CMS’s call for increased patient satisfaction, while renewing caregivers’ sense of mission and loyalty.


    Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center

    Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center increased its HCAHPS patient satisfaction scores by 33 percent last year and continues to receive positive ratings from patients about their experiences at the hospital. 

    In January 2012, the 116-bed rural hospital in Kennett, Mo., implemented the Sacred Moments program, a no-cost strategy for boosting its HCAHPS scores. A team of Twin Rivers’ physicians collaborated with an advisory firm to design Sacred Moments, which establishes a dedicated time for nurses to talk with patients about their greatest concerns and to establish a human connection with patients.

    With hospital Medicare payments now partially tied to HCAHPS, Twin Rivers’ large Medicare/Medicaid patient base makes the hospital particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in CMS payments. In addition, the hospital has limited resources to devote to new programs. However, the Sacred Moments initiative allows the hospital to respond to calls for higher patient satisfaction rates, without making a significant financial outlay.


    An Emphasis on Patient Needs

    The Sacred Moments program begins during the admissions process. Within 15 minutes of patients entering their hospital rooms, a nurse inquires about their fears and concerns and determines ways to comfort them. For example, the nurse may discover that a patient is anxious about who will care for a pet at home or about ensuring that a trusted family member receives information about the patient’s status. Eliminating patients’ concerns early in their hospital stays ensures that they are focused on getting better rather than worrying about unfinished personal business.

    In addition to calming patients’ fears, the Sacred Moments program improves communication between the hospital and primary care physicians. During the Sacred Moments interviews, Twin Rivers’ nurses identify patients’ primary care physicians and assure patients that those physicians will receive status reports and test results during the hospital stays.

    One-on-One Interaction Makes a Difference

    Although typical admission assessments often ask some of the questions included in the Sacred Moments interviewing process, patients perceive those paper-based admission questionnaires as mundane paperwork. However, when nurses ask similar questions as patients settle into their hospital rooms, the one-on-one format establishes a connection with patients. The nurses gently reinforce the hospital support system and share information about care teams and courses of treatment.

    See sidebar: Nurse-Patient Communication Checklist

    Sacred Moments acknowledges patients’ spiritual and emotional needs in addition to addressing their medical condition. For example, if a nurse determines during the interview that a patient is claustrophobic and a CT scan has been ordered, the nurse may suggest that the physician prescribe a medication to relieve the patient’s stress.

    In addition to improving patient satisfaction scores, the Sacred Moments program has had a profound impact on Twin Rivers’ staff satisfaction and physician loyalty. Physicians and nurses have expressed that the program allows them to honor their original inspiration for entering the healthcare field—to care for people in need.

    “We benefit from the Sacred Moments program as much as the patients. We are surrounded by basic needs every day, but distractions blind us to them. The Sacred Moments program opens our eyes to those needs. I am grateful for the experience,” says Tiffany Rodery, certified respiratory therapist at Twin Rivers.

    Expansion through a New Rural Hospital Initiative

    An emphasis on the human connection in health care is a growing trend. Twin Rivers’ success has become a prototype for other rural hospitals around the country. The hospital’s vendor partner recently launched a one-year program called the Rural Health Experience Innovation Network, which is modeled after Twin Rivers’ Sacred Moments program and aims to design and spread new patient experience innovations in rural hospitals and health systems.

    Steve Pu, DO, is medical director, Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center, Kennett, Mo.

    Steve Jackson is COO, ExperiaHealth, San Francisco