There is an old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” When it comes to our patients’ impressions of us, nothing could be farther from the truth. As a matter of fact, their words, expressed in post-discharge patient satisfaction surveys, can play a tremendous role in the financial stability of our hospitals.

Throughout the years, hospitals have employed a wide variety of methods to evaluate their patients’ experiences, if only to improve their service and strengthen their brand. The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems ( HCAHPS ) initiative has taken patient satisfaction to a new level by creating the first national, standardized survey tool to measure patients’ perspectives of the care they received while hospitalized. In addition, HCAHPS was designed to provide objective, meaningful comparisons of hospitals, and these comparisons are publicly reported , which increases transparency of the quality of care provided to hospitalized patients.

The survey is administered between 48 hours and 6 weeks post discharge to a random sample of adult patients by mail, telephone, mail and telephone, or Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Discharged patients are asked 27 questions about their recent hospitalization including communication with doctors and nurses, pain management, discharge information, communication about medication, overall hospital rating, and whether they would recommend the hospital to others.

Four times per year, the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services publishes HCAHPS scores of participating hospitals on the Hospital Compare website ( www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov ), though the survey is not restricted to Medicare patients. Patients can pick and choose which hospitals they like, and which ones they would avoid like the plague.

Of course, it’s not realistic to think that we are going to please all of our patients all of the time, but this initiative does have the potential to create a new sense of accountability, as well as competitiveness for hospital systems and providers alike. No one wants to be at the bottom of the pack.

So, how do we increase our scores? Many models and companies claim to help improve patient satisfaction. Just do an Internet search. Keep in mind, what works well for one group may be ineffective for another.

For instance, 5-minute per patient multidisciplinary bedside rounding – including the provider, nurse, pharmacist, and case manager – may be easy to implement and skyrocket patient satisfaction in some institutions. In others, getting appropriate staffing may be prohibitive. Regardless of the approach that may be right for your group, it is important to keep in mind that the tide of health care is ever changing. Patients are demanding, and receiving, a bigger role in their health care. We all want to be in the forefront, not at the tail end, of that tide.

Dr. Hester is a hospitalist at Baltimore-Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie, Md. She is the creator of the Patient Whiz, a patient-engagement app for iOS. Reach her at healthsavvy@aol.com.

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