The link between quality, the patient experience, and satisfaction received more data support in April with the release of the American Society of Quality’s (ASQ) healthcare survey report. Of the 250+ healthcare industry quality professionals, the overwhelming majority said that better communication would not only help improve patient experience, but lower costs of healthcare as well.

More than 80% agreed with the notion that good communication between patients and providers was key to positive experience and lower costs. Other items had the same result, according to respondents who were strong leaders prioritizing a patient-centered philosophy among staff and promote an organized system where patients know what to expect and when (67%); viewing patient experience and service delivery as equal priority to financial and clinical performance measures (60%); and ease of access to treatment across the entire continuum of care (via accountable care organizations, etc.) — 52%.

Results

“I think having more proof that there is a link between patient engagement and quality and cost is important,” says Susan Peiffer, MT (ASCP), MS-MT, MHA, CSSBB, chair-elect of ASQ’s Healthcare Division and the performance improvement specialist at Hospital Sisters Health System Western Wisconsin Division. Peiffer helped develop the survey questions.

The responses were unsurprising, she says, although they were “gratifying” because some of the numbers were higher than she might have expected. “If there are others who have a different focus, it’s good to be able to show them how many of us understand the link between these things.”

Peiffer says that one thing some may find surprising is how so many respondents valued patient experience equal to financial performance measures: 71% of them answered the survey in this manner. She herself was not surprised by that finding, and many who work in quality departments may not, either. For Peiffer, it is another way of saying that without positive patient experience, you aren’t going to have a positive financial outcome.

Another take-home message she would like to emphasize is this: Patient experience is not just patient satisfaction. “I think that quality people get this, but it’s still a lesson we have to teach. Focus groups and surveys are not going to get you to a place of positive patient experience. It takes more than that.”

Handoffs are a problem still needing a resolution, and getting them right — both within the hospital and throughout the continuum of care — is vital to positive patient experience and good clinical outcomes, Peiffer says.

“I don’t know if people are thinking about leadership development and colleague engagement as ways to improve safety,” she says, “but I think they should. If we had leadership development systems that were like Lean systems, where everyone had the information they needed, where they needed it, when they needed it, fragmented uncoordinated care would decrease.”

Senior leaders have to support quality initiatives as much as financial ones, and provide the resources — time, money and staff — required to create positive patient engagement, Peiffer says. “It takes time to save time, takes resources to save them. If we are to make improvements, we need the support to do that.”

For more information on this topic, contact Susan Peiffer, MT (ASCP), MS-MT, MHA, CSSBB, Performance Improvement Specialist, Hospital Sisters Health System, Western Wisconsin Division, Eau Claire, WI. Telephone: (715) 717-6032.