• Earning a 4-star patient-experience rating takes dedication

    By Laura Ramos Hegwer May 21, 2019

    Main article: Executive-level strategies for optimizing the patient experience

    * For Maryland hospitals, 1% of payment hinges on patient experience metrics.

    * A leading Maryland health system, Johns Hopkins Medicine, uses patient experience coaches who work with service lines to improve staff and provider communications with patients.

    * Patient and family councils provide input on the health system’s strategic plan and support leaders with various initiatives, such as helping the finance team develop a unified billing statement.

    Under Maryland’s hospital rate-setting system, 1% of hospital payment from all payers is based on an organization’s performance on the HCAHPS inpatient survey.

    Lisa Allen“It can be millions of dollars for organizations that can be lost or gained,” says Lisa Allen, PhD (pictured at right), chief patient experience officer at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

    Patient experience also affects reputation, which can drive new and repeat business. But the consequences are not just financial. Research suggests that a positive patient experience leads to lower readmission rates, better healing and better patient engagement, Allen says. Good communication with and disclosure to patients are key to a positive experience and may reduce the likelihood of litigation after an adverse event, she adds.

    Adding patient experience coaches to the lineup

    The patient experience team at Johns Hopkins Medicine includes several analysts and senior project administrators, as well as five patient experience coaches who were hired in 2015 to support inpatient and outpatient medicine, neurosciences, obstetrics/gynecology, oncology, pediatrics and surgery. Since adding the coaches, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, the largest hospital in the system, has steadily increased its patient experience scores, Allen says.

    The coaches share survey data and best practices with staff and train new employees on effective patient communication. They also shadow staff members and offer constructive feedback on improving interactions with patients.

    Thanks to the team’s efforts, The Johns Hopkins Hospital has earned a four-star rating for patient experience, according to the Hospital Compare website. Such a rating is rare for large academic health centers, Allen says.

    Most recently, the patient experience team has been training frontline staff on how to engage patients to use a new tablet-based technology. The devices give patients bedside access to health information such as vital signs, medications, lab results and patient education.

    Incorporating the patient experience in the strategic plan

    Allen and a patient or family representative participate on the health system’s strategic-planning committee to ensure that patient- and family-centered principles are embedded in the five-year strategic plan. The plan includes annual patient experience goals, such as providing patient education materials in a wider range of languages or improving end-of-life care.

    The strategic plan also is reviewed by the health system’s 17 patient and family councils. Each council is co-chaired by a patient or family member and a staff member, with staff comprising about half the council positions to support members and hear their input. Recently, the councils helped develop a new handbook for inpatients and assisted with the implementation of a wayfinding app to help patients and families navigate the health system.

    In the past 12 months, the councils also helped finance leaders develop a single billing statement that includes facility and professional charges, to reduce patient confusion.

    In turn, CFOs and other C-suite leaders can be highly visible advocates for the patient experience in their organizations, Allen says. One way is by ensuring patient experience teams are properly resourced.

    “Leaders should remember that these are small departments doing big jobs,” she says. “This type of work needs champions.”

    Laura Ramos Hegwer is a freelance writer and editor based in Lake Bluff, Ill.

    Interviewed for this article: Lisa Allen, PhD, chief patient experience officer, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Baltimore, Md.