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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

Hospitals Like Hotels, Treating Patients Like Customers

By Joy Daughtery Dickinson

Clean, quiet rooms. Check.

Nice, helpful staff. Check.

Good food. Check.

These items might sound like a checklist for someone’s next vacation destination. However, it could be the checklist for your next patient looking at reviews on the Internet and deciding where to go for a procedure. With higher deductibles, patients are doing more homework and have much higher expectations than in the past, says a recent story by Roni Caryn Rabin at Kaiser Health News (KHN).

And patients aren’t the only ones putting the squeeze on hospitals for better service, says KHN. Medicare is penalizing hospitals whose patient satisfaction scores fall short.

In response to these trends, dozens of hospitals have added a new position: chief patient experience officer, says the nonprofit national health policy news service. The hospitals focus on hospital service, including satisfaction surveys and physician/staff communication with patients in the hospital and post-discharge.

“The one thing I’m not trying to do is to put a mint on the pillow,” said Paul Westbrook, who worked at Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton before becoming a chief patient experience officer at Inova Health System in Falls Church, VA, two years ago. “This is a different customer, with very different needs,” said Westbrook. Consider these patient satisfaction efforts reported by KHN:

* The “Inova promise” to “meet the unique needs of each person we are privileged to serve – every time, every touch” is repeated at the beginning of every meeting.

* At MedStar Washington (DC) Hospital Center, nurses perform hourly rounds in which they sit down with each patient for several minutes to have a meaningful interaction. The discussions help nurses prevent problems such as bedsores and falls.

* At Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, CT, employees are told to use “library voices” around the clock and not to discuss cases or complain where patients might overhear. The hospitals also has worked to decrease or eliminate noises from overhead pages, beepers, and bedside alarms.

* The Cleveland (OH) Clinic requires all of its staff physicians, which number 3,000, to spend a day learning about relationships and communications. Physician communication scores have increased significantly.

* At the UCLA Health System in Los Angeles, a video about central-line catheters was developed by parents of children. It reminds staff how frightening a catheter can be for patients and their parents.

* Some hospitals are calling patients within 48 hours of their being discharged to ensure they are recovering as expected.

* Some hospitals use patient and family advisory councils and surveys to identify satisfaction problems.(For more on this topic, see our blog “Getting patients’ input isn’t for the meeting room anymore – Hospitals move to social media.”)

Need another reason to implement some of these ideas? Patient satisfaction has been tied to improved outcomes, KHN points out. So good customer service isn’t just for resort locations and rewards aren’t just for frequent flyers. Adapt the best ideas from the five-star hotels, and you’ll be aiming for the stars yourself!