Improving the Patient Experience For Good

improving the patient experience for goodIs one of your New Year’s Resolutions to improve the patient experience at your hospital or care facility? If so, I have some sobering news: a scant 8% of New Year’s Resolutions are actually successful, which translates to a 92% failure rate.

According to an article in Psychology Today on why resolutions fail, “Making resolutions work involves changing behaviors—and in order to change a behavior, you have to change your thinking (or “rewire” your brain) …Change requires creating new neural pathways from new thinking.”

The majority of resolutions fail because when we aspire to make dramatic changes, we need more than just good intentions. In order for a New Year’s Resolution — or any kind of major change — to be successful, we need to dig a little deeper. We need to go beneath the surface and begin to change our mindset and our behavior at the cellular level.

Improving the patient experience and getting your patient satisfaction scores up is on everyone’s to-do list. But no one is talking about why we need to improve patient experience, and more importantly, no one is digging deeper and talking about how to do it.

Why Improve Patient Experience?

In addition to just being the right thing to do, improving the patient experience also has a financial imperative.

Up to 30% of federal financial healthcare reimbursements are now directly tied to patient satisfaction survey scores. And these surveys are asking questions beyond just good clinical outcomes. Patients are answering questions based on their perception of their experience including noise levels, communication with providers, and whether they feel listened to and cared for. Patients answer by checking either: Never, Sometimes, Usually, or Always.

And here’s the bad news: you get zero credit — which means zero dollars — for “sometimes” answers.

The shift in healthcare from volume to value, along with the growing importance of HCAHPS patient satisfaction surveys, means healthcare CEOs and those in the C-suite need to find or develop a more effective long-term cultural solution to the challenges they face. This is a striking change from the usual programs of the month that offer prescriptive, quick-fix solutions that simply teach to the test.

How To Improve Patient Experience

So how do we improve the patient experience? And what does that really mean? Is it about striving to get all fives on the HCAHPS? Is it as simple as just being nicer to patients and convincing employees of things they need to do or say just to get our patient satisfaction scores to go up?

The old saying “culture eats strategy for lunch” is true. No matter what strategy or tactics you employ to move the needle on patient experience, it’s the culture — or as your employees might say “the way we do things around here” — that will override any strategy you put forth.

Therefore, I think one of the first things we have to agree on is that improving the patient experience has to be more than just a marketing program or the new program of the month. It has to be more than a slogan or a bunch of checklists to follow. Employees are just as savvy as our patients; they can spot a well-intentioned but meaningless initiative a mile away.

To improve the patient experience over the long-term in a sustainable and meaningful way, you must involve every team member, across all lines of the patient experience, and make them the architects responsible for developing a new organizational culture. 
If they develop it, they will own it and they will police it,
 even when you’re not around. 
THAT is the secret to delivering consistently 
exceptional patient experiences.

Giving your employees checklists or scripts is the equivalent of making a New Year’s Resolution. It’s not a bad idea. In fact, it just might work, and work well, for the first few weeks. But come February, the odds of any real, lasting change in behavior are slim.

If you’re serious about improving the patient experience, it has to become more than just changing the things you say and the things you do. It has to become who you are as a healing organization. It has to become your #1 organizational priority. It’s simple; It’s just not easy. It will take a commitment of time, talent, and resources. But I promise you, the dividends you reap will be well worth it.