Hospitalists address patient experience during the pandemic


What is patient experience?

Evaluated by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and endorsed by the National Quality Forum, HCAHPS hospital quality surveys ask patients (or their family members, who may be the ones completing the survey) 29 well-tested questions about the recent hospital stay and how they experienced it. Nineteen of those questions explore critical aspects of the patient’s experience in areas such as communication, responsiveness of staff, information about their diagnosis, medications, and discharge – and if they would recommend the hospital to others.

Surveys can be done by mail, phone, or interactive voice recognition and are offered in seven different languages. They can be administered by the hospital itself or by an approved survey vendor. They are sent between 48 hours and 6 weeks after the patient’s hospital discharge.

Nationwide results from HCAHPS survey have been published since 2008 in a searchable, comparable format on the consumer-focused government website Hospital Compare. The data have been used in a value-based incentive purchasing program since 2012. Hospital Compare also incorporates measures of quality such as mortality, readmission, and hospital-acquired infection rates as well as process measures such as how well facilities provide recommended care.

Starting in 2016, overall hospital quality has been encapsulated in a Star rating, which summarizes a variety of measures across seven areas of quality into a single number from one to five for each hospital. One of those seven areas is patient experience.

Hospitals may choose to ask additional questions of their own along with the HCAHPS survey, to gather additional, actionable quality data for internal purposes. Internal surveys with results closer to real time, instead of the months-to-years lag in posting HCAHPS scores, enable the hospital to respond to issues that emerge.

It’s not just the scores

“A lot of leaders in the hospital business will tell you ‘It’s not about the scores,’ ” Dr. Patel related. “But you need scores to tell how your practice is doing. It’s a testament to the kind of care you are providing as a hospital medicine program. These are important questions: Did your doctor listen to you, communicate in ways you understood, and treat you with courtesy?” Scores are scores, he said, but more importantly, are patients getting the information they need? Do they understand what’s going on in their care?

“You have to look at the scores and ask, what can we do differently to impact patient experience? What are we doing wrong? What can we do better? If the scores as a collective experience of hospitalized patients are plummeting, it must mean they’re not feeling good about the care they are receiving, and not recognizing what we’re trying to do for them.”

Declining HCAHPS scores last year could easily be explained by what was going on with COVID-19, Dr. Patel said. “But we want our patient experience to be seamless. We have to put ourselves in the patient’s shoes. For them, it’s about whether they felt they were treated well or not. We had to reinvent ourselves and find new ways to compensate for the limitations imposed by the pandemic,” he said.

“We also recognized that our No. 1 job as a group is to take care of our doctors, so that they can take care of their patients. We provided quarantine pay, implemented a buddy system for doctors, used CME dollars to pay for COVID education and, if they felt ill, we said they needed to stay home, while we paid their shift anyway,” he said. “When you do that kind of thing and engage them in your mission, frontline hospitalists can help to improve quality of care, decrease costs, and increase patient safety.”

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