January 2005

Patient Satisfaction Rises for Five Consecutive Quarters


The Jackson Organization, which administers Catholic Health Initiatives' patient satisfaction measurement, reports that system-wide patient satisfaction rose steadily during the five quarters from July 2003 to September 2004.

Catholic Health Initiatives' market-based organizations are willing to do the hard operational work that produces more satisfying patient experiences. "Those that most successfully manage the patient experience have gone beyond simple guest relations training programs," said Tim Moran, director of customer strategy. The system's Customer and Market Strategy Team helps market-based organizations focus on six operational best practices proven to improve patient satisfaction outcomes. According to Susan Allmond, director of customer loyalty for Catholic Health Initiatives, the improvement comes from several factors. "One factor is the real expression of our core values in the patient experience on the part of leaders and staff members," she said. "In addition, market-based executives, managers and staff increasingly focus on 'Key Touch Points' in the patient care experience - those vital moments in which patients form their perception of satisfaction with the care they receive." Tim Moran, director of customer strategy for Catholic Health Initiatives, noted the willingness of market-based organizations to do the hard operational work that produces more satisfying patient experiences. "The Catholic Health Initiatives hospitals that most successfully manage the patient experience have gone beyond simple guest relations training programs," he said. Kim Moore, chief nursing officer at Saint Elizabeth Regional Medical Center, Lincoln, Neb., agrees. "We have wonderful, compassionate staff members who are critical to our success, but there's more at work here," she said. "Proactively managing wait times, patient transfers, shift changes and other key interfaces with patients and their family members means making choices in how we operate at the unit, department and house-wide level." Catholic Health Initiatives focuses on employee satisfaction as a driver of patient satisfaction. In addition, the National Customer and Market Strategy Team helps market-based organizations focus on six operational best practices proven to improve the patient experience and patient satisfaction outcomes:
  1. Identify key, measurable points of interaction - or Touch Points - that have the most potential to satisfy or frustrate patients and family members. "Map the customer experience, department by department, to gain a better understanding of what patients experience as they move through your organization," said Moore. "What goes on in the mind of a patient is often different from our assumptions. It's important to understand what patients want and how we meet those needs. We did this in our radiology department and immediately improved our patient satisfaction scores."
  2. Identify key behaviors and words that staff members and others should use to proactively manage the patient experience during moments of truth. "For example, instead of pulling a curtain around an emergency room patient and assuming the patient understands that action, manage the interaction by saying 'I am pulling this curtain around you to ensure your privacy,'" said Debbie Brakke, vice president, outcomes and service excellence at St. Mary's Healthcare Center, Pierre, S.D. "That way, patients won't be left wondering if the curtains are for their privacy or that of the staff."
  3. Measure success in managing the patient experience during the Key Touch Points. "We focus on the lag measure of patient satisfaction, but also on lead indicators," said Donna Sanders, vice president of mission and community outreach at Saint Francis Medical Center, Grand Island, Neb. "We see if wait times are down, if key words are used at key times to promote a more satisfying experience and if staff members promote the competence and compassion of their fellow care team members to our patients."
  4. Develop a system for recognition of high performance. "The highest performing organizations in patient satisfaction make consistent recognition an operational priority," said Maryann Reese, vice president of operations for Mercy Medical Center, Nampa, Idaho. "This often includes weekly thank you notes to staff members and other personal expressions of gratitude."
  5. Develop a consistent approach to accountability. "Performance changes when behavior changes," said Joseph Messmer, chief executive officer of Mercy Medical Center in Nampa. "So, in addition to recognizing people who excel in patient satisfaction measures, organizations must deal with chronic under-performers. As Jim Collins states in Good to Great, leaders must make sure the right people are on the bus and encourage the wrong people to find another ride."
  6. Develop consistent "rounding" by hospital leaders. "Rounding does not mean 'management by walking around,'" said Allmond. "Rounding means routinely visiting each department in the hospital to accomplish two things: identify individuals to be recognized for their work in managing excellent patient experiences; and learn from the front line about any barriers to satisfying patient and employee experiences. At a departmental level, it includes rounding with staff and with customers to gain real-time feedback, assess effectiveness and initiate service recovery in situations where customer expectations have not been met."
According to Moran, this is the hard operational work that industry leaders must address. "It's important to enhance customer service skills through training, but I strongly recommend that market-based organizations build the needed operational infrastructure and establish clear patient experience expectations first," he said. "Infrastructure gives staff a context for these questions: What's important? For what am I accountable? How will I be measured and recognized when I'm successful?" In its strategic plan for 2005-2009, Catholic Health Initiatives identified improved patient satisfaction as one of its top 25 operational objectives. Catholic Health Initiatives will continue to provide market-based organizations with guidance on the six operational best practices; sponsor a national seminar in June 2005; and develop a virtual community in which leaders, managers and staff members can share best practices for improving the patient experience. For more information, contact Susan Allmond at susanallmond@catholichealth.net or Tim Moran at timmoran@catholichealth.net.