HealthAugust 15, 2017

4 tips for Improving HCAHPS scores

Handicapped by HCAHPS? Learn proven strategies to improve patient satisfaction.

Hospitals’ scores on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey are becoming increasingly important for facilities to validate patient satisfaction and avoid losing considerable federal reimbursement.

The intent of the HCAHPS initiative is to provide a standardized survey tool and data collection methodology for measuring patients’ perspectives on hospital care. While many hospitals have collected information on patient satisfaction, prior to HCAHPS there was no national standard for collecting or publicly reporting patients’ perspectives of care information that allows for meaningful comparisons between hospitals.

HCAHPS is a core set of questions that can be combined with a broader, customized set of hospital-specific items. HCAHPS survey items complement the data hospitals currently collect to support improvements in internal customer services and quality-related activities.

Nurses should be a part of these four strategies hospitals can use to increase HCAHPS scores.

1. Communicate clearly and often.

One of the foundations of a positive patient experience is communication, both among providers and between providers and patients. Several questions on the HCAHPS survey address communication, such as:

  • How often nurses and physicians listened carefully to them
  • How often nurses and physicians explained things in a way they could understand
  • If hospital staff told them what their medicine was for
  • If hospital staff described possible side effects of their medicine
  • If physicians, nurses or other staff discussed whether they would have the help they need after leaving the hospital
  • If they received information in writing about symptoms or health problems to look out for after leaving the hospital.

There are many tools and tactics hospitals can use to improve communication with patients. Hospitals should use multiple modes of communication to emphasize important information and help patients remember key instructions. To reinforce important information to patients, staff should provide written instructions and also repeat them verbally, giving patients time to respond with questions.

Many hospitals use whiteboards in the patient’s room to help physicians, nurses, and staff communicate with patients. Another tool hospitals can use to ensure effective communication is interpretation services. Providing interpreters for patients who do not speak or understand English is crucial for communicating information about medication and discharge instructions.

Hospitals are also conducting follow-up calls to patients after discharge to answer any questions, ensure discharge instructions are followed, and solicit feedback on their experience.

2. Collect and act on data.

As in most improvement initiatives, lasting improvement in HCAHPS scores requires hospitals to collect, analyze, and act on data about the patient experience. At the basic level, hospitals can examine HCAHPS surveys to identify trends and problem areas.

Communicate with every patient about their experience. A larger response rate will ensure hospitals receive data about universal problems in the patient experience. Data, whether from HCAHPS surveys, follow-up calls or other tools, can help hospitals determine what is most important for patients experience and then create projects to target these areas.

3. Educate patients.

Another key strategy in improving HCAHPS scores is to educate patients throughout their hospital stay. In addition to speaking with patients one-on-one, hospitals can educate patients through videos at the bedside and written instructions.

Every interaction is an opportunity to educate patients — about their condition, medication, post-discharge plans, and follow-up plans. Patients that understand more about their condition and care will feel more involved in the process and less detached.

Educating patients during transitions of care, such as from the hospital to a long-term care facility or to home, is especially important for the patient experience because understanding what to do post-discharge eases patients’ anxiety. Don't leave a patient feeling like just a number. Empower patients with pertinent information and support tools.

4. Make a positive patient experience part of the culture.

Significant, long-term improvement of HCAHPS scores depends on the culture of the hospital. When leaders emphasize the importance of patient satisfaction, and clinical staff are trained in patient satisfaction strategies, you will be more successful in improving HCAHPS scores.

Developing a strong culture that values the patient experience begins with leadership from nurses. The culture of service excellence must be continuously nurtured in order to consistently achieve strong HCAHPS scores and provide the best care for patients.

In addition, hospitals should acknowledge that treating patients goes beyond one individual; it also affects the patient's family.

Even small changes in physicians’ or nurses’ behavior can influence patient satisfaction. For example, sitting to talk to patients and families instead of standing can give a more positive impression, and one that is not rushed.

To create a culture that values the patient experience, train staff to adopt a patient-centric approach to patient care and emphasize the importance of patient satisfaction.

What initiatives are you taking to improve HCAHPS scores? Leave us a comment.

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