Four Insights Every Hospital CEO Should Know About Improving Patient Experience

Posted by Karen Stone on April 14, 2017
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With value-based care on the rise and consumers wielding greater influence in healthcare overall, delivering a positive patient experience is near, if not at the top, of every CEO's list.

Patient experience amounts to more than simply making improvements to quality, safety and service. The Beryl Institute describes it as “the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care.’

The case for it has never been stronger. A 2013 British Medical Journal review of more than 50 studies revealed that patient experience is “positively associated with clinical effectiveness and patient safety” and should be included as “as one of the central pillars in healthcare.” Its ripple effect, the study noted, leads to more forthcoming patients who more motivated to follow treatment plans, which results in faster diagnoses, reduced medical errors, improved clinical decisions and fewer malpractice suits.

executive_nurse-1.jpgHospital leaders are seeing the value of patient experience and have begun devoting resources, launching initiatives and hiring staff to improve it, as research from The Beryl Institute’s newest benchmarking study on patient experience reveals. But achieving this is more challenging than it seems for many hospitals, especially when disconnects between senior leaders and the professionals charged with leading this effort muddle the process.

In a webinar hosted by The Beryl Institute earlier this week, Kristin Baird, an RN, former hospital executive and nationally recognized thought leader on patient experience who serves as CEO of the Baird Group, provided insight on this dilemma from patient experience leaders she has interviewed. She shared what these professionals wished their CEOs knew about leading the patient experience and how CEOs could support them better. Here are our four takeaways from her session.

  1. Patient experience must be a priority for everyone. CEOs shouldn’t treat patient experience as an item to check off their to-do list or a task to delegate down to department managers. To succeed at improving the patient experience, they must  “own” it, Baird said. That means communicating its importance clearly and consistently, modeling behaviors they want to see across the system and holding everyone in the organization— senior leaders included—accountable for it. “Patient experience is a journey, not a project,” Baird said. At times, progress may seem slower and more difficult than most CEOs would like. It takes time, patience, positivity and an ongoing investment of resources to see results. And it’s not just a one-time issue to solve. “You can never turn your back on it,” Baird said. “It’s ever-present.”

  2. Employee engagement is the key to success. Improving the patient experience starts with bringing employees on board and getting them excited about changing the culture of the hospital for the better. That means motivating not only nurses and staff to deliver better a patient experience, but also doctors, Baird noted. Though these efforts may seem easy or obvious to CEOs, they must be willing to equip staff with resources, whether that means providing training for nurses or keeping supply closets better stocked so they have more time to spend with patients. “It doesn’t just become a great patient experience because you tell people to make it happen,” Baird said. “You have to be part of the solution and crafting the culture around it.” In some hospitals, the quality of patient experience can vary depending on the department, day of the week or shift, and CEOs must be ready to address such inconsistencies. “You can’t policy people’s hearts … but you have to be prepared to draw a line in the sand,” Baird said.

  3. The CEO must be a visible champion. Patient experience is an action, not a buzzword or a strategic goal. This is true for employees, and it’s also true for senior leaders. “When CEOs interact with staff and patients, it does wonders for validating how important this work really is,” Baird said. “You can’t say it’s important, then stay back in your office.” CEOs can lead by example by blocking out an hour a day to round with patients and taking time to talk with the frontline staff about their needs. Even finding ways to engage with patients in different hospital interactions can be illuminating for leaders. For example, a CEO may want to devote a few hours to working in the call center, meeting study participants in a clinical trial or responding to a patient complaint, Baird suggested. “Some disengaged leaders point to nurses as the keeper of patient experience,” she said. “But the service mind-set must start with all leaders in the C-suite.” If employees can visibly see that the CEO prioritizes patient experience, “they will step up,” Baird added.

  4. Patient experience isn’t fluff. Transforming the patient experience is about more than raising HCAHPS scores. While metrics derived from patient satisfaction surveys may reflect the environment of care, they don’t tell the whole story. This is another reason why rounding is valuable for CEOs: It gives them the opportunity to hear stories from patients and staff about challenges and successes in this area and offers a better gauge for advancing the patient experience. Baird encouraged CEOs not to “risk chasing scores and tactics,” but instead to measure success by positive comments from patients and families and the evidence they see of greater engagement among staff. Pay attention to the data, but seek out the stories, too, Baird urged CEOs.

In the webinar, Baird also provided some guidance for how CEOs and patient experience (PX) leaders in hospitals could turn communication gaps with each other into opportunities. Her suggestions included:

CEOs: Set the vision for what you would like to achieve with patient experience by leading by example and modeling behaviors you want to see from your staff. Evaluate how the overall culture of the hospital helps or hinders patient experience and how you can move the ball forward.

PX leaders:
Ask for what you need, but be specific and determine what is most essential for success. Leverage your relationship with supervisors and/or executive stakeholders to lobby for more resources. Be willing to compromise if necessary, but keep looking for creative ways to get support from senior leaders.

We’re passionate about helping hospitals improve the patient experience at Amplion, and we’re constantly looking for ways to enhance patient communication and safety as well as care coordination and collaboration through our next-generation nurse call system.

Contact us
to learn more about how our integrated, data-driven care assurance platform can boost visibility and accountability for your hospital. Also, look for more patient experience posts coming up on our blog as we prepare to celebrate Patient Experience Week April 24–28!

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