The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) as well as private insurers now consider patient experience as an important quality indicator in pay for performance. Tools like HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) and CG CAHPS (Clinician & Group CAHPS for Accountable Care Organizations) were created to provide a standard methodology for measuring patients’ perceptions of their hospital and healthcare experiences. Significant dollars are at risk for poor performers.
- Measurement: In order to effectively track how well you are meeting patient needs, and demonstrate that activities are enhancing patient experience, your organization and key stakeholders must agree to a set of metrics and timeframes. A baseline should be taken of consumer perceptions prior to tactical implementation of any improvement activities. The stakeholders should agree to set targets for the organization and the health center locations based upon the baseline. Tactical initiatives should be implemented to focus on improvements that will enhance the experience and therefore demonstrate momentum in the metrics.
- System Alignment: It is imperative to establish and align behavioral expectations into the organization and job performance. Often job descriptions do not adequately spell out accountability for customer experience. A review should be considered for primary job descriptions. Additionally systems must be designed to recognize and reward high performing groups and individuals for their contributions to service enhancement.
- Training: Once metrics and behaviors have been identified, all employees need to be oriented to new expectations. It is critical to assist employees in working through the change process so they can better understand and embrace their roles as customer service champions. Training should include behavioral expectations, skill building exercises, orientation to the report tool, and individual accountability.
- On-going Communication: When initial training is completed, continued reinforcement of behaviors is essential to long-term success. The frequency of this reinforcement is dependent on the established communication channels and the organization’s culture. Performance reports should be established and delivered on a regular basis.
- Service Touch Point: Key touch points (patient interactions) occur within and along the care continuum. It is important to understand patient flow and where these touch points occur. With this understanding, we can identify patient expectations at each touch point. We can then design patient education and marketing materials, processes, systems and, if necessary, talking points to assist in delivering against expectations.
- Service Recovery: If a process, system or patient expectation fails – it is imperative that we construct an adequate service recovery process. Employees need to be empowered to implement service recovery at the point of dissonance in order to enhance patient experience – to do this they need the support of a system. These failures should also be documented to establish and demonstrate trends so that system adaptations can occur to enhance the process. Please remember many accrediting agencies also require a formalized Complaint and Grievance process as well.
- Service Achievement: Going beyond patient expectations creates a WOW experience. Identify simple opportunities to create WOW experiences at key touch points. An initial approach should be to identify at least one WOW opportunity within the patient experience.
These seven essential program elements are based upon years of practical application and best practice review of effective patient experience programs. Whether your organizational approach is organic, or philosophically – based upon programs like Studor, Disney, etc., organizational commitment to the patient experience is essential to effective operational performance. Your approach should uphold your brand, stress alignment within the system, and provide on-going reinforcement. Every employee, volunteer and physician are essential to delivering an exceptional patient experience – and may have significant impact reimbursement.
Make sure a focus on patient experience is embedded in your culture!
For more information on Assessing and Improving Patient Experience, contact Brian Whitman at firstname.lastname@example.org.