It’s important to realize that there isn't a single silver bullet that will solve all your patient experience problems.
The only way to significantly improve the quality of care you provide (and the perception patients have of that care) is to methodically identify and fix areas of your service that negatively impact patient care.
This means that continuous process improvement must become part of your organization's operational DNA, where every employee is held accountable for how they impact patient satisfaction and how they will fix any service issues that are discovered.
What to Do When Patient Service Issues Are Uncovered
As you know by now, post-discharge follow-up allows you to find service holes that negatively impact the patient experience. Filling those holes, however, requires an agile approach to process improvement. As you uncover patient dissatisfiers that are ruining your HCAHPS scores, it’s important that your organization is capable of taking immediate action to fix processes and (re)train employees.
At a high level, you must:
- Share Feedback with Appropriate Team Members
Be transparent about the feedback you receive from your patients. Not only will making this data available to your internal staff help your team take ownership of what isn't working, it allows them to see what is working, providing them with the opportunity to replicate those best practices.
- Prioritize Which Issues to Tackle First
It’s very likely that you will uncover a lot of opportunities for improvement once you start following up with patients. And given the mounting pressure to improve your HCAHPS scores with limited time, budget, and resources, it’s easy to start panicking (don’t).In addition to helping you find holes in your service that negatively impact the patient experience, your post-discharge follow-up program also offers insight into which of those issues are contributing more to poor patient experiences. Start your improvement efforts there, focusing on areas that have the biggest opportunity for improvement.
- Create Improvement Plans and Assign Deliverables
To ensure service issues discovered during post-discharge follow-up are addressed appropriately, you need to have an improvement process in place that will allow you to coordinate resources in a way that will effectively change how service is delivered.The specific steps you’ll take will be unique to your organization, but generally this means you must define the current process and known deficiencies, set clear improvement objectives, identify and organize your improvement team, create an improvement and subsequent implementation plan, and assign specific deliverables to relevant employees.
- Monitor Impact Via Discharge Follow-Up
As you make changes to your current processes, you need a way to track whether or not you are achieving your improvement objectives. Using your Patient Interaction Scripts, you can adjust specific post-discharge follow-up campaigns to capture data specific to your improvement initiatives. Utilizing your trend reports, you can see whether or not your changes are improving the patient experience.
How to Ensure Process Improvement Is Implemented
Not maintaining continuous process improvement is a common problem faced by hospitals—and it can cause your HCAHPS scores to plummet. If you’re not diligent in finding and resolving healthcare service issues, you’re less likely to spot areas of concern until they spiral into big problems, wiping away any gains you made with previous process improvements.
Here are a few ideas on how to continuously monitor and improve the patient experience:
- Assign an Executive Sponsor
As with any organization, internal barriers will inevitably crop up that make it difficult to implement the operational, training, and policy changes needed to improve the patient experience. To ensure your improvement initiatives remain a top priority within your organization, a senior executive (preferably board level or just below) must take responsibility for the patient experience.The executive sponsor’s responsibilities include (but are not limited to) establishing a framework for process improvement, prioritizing program objectives, overseeing contracting and partner relationships with third-party service providers, ensuring adequate funding / budget priority, removing internal barriers by working with department heads, and communicating program results to senior management and board of directors.
- Establish Project Oversight
Generally the responsibility of a dedicated project manager, assigning project oversight ensures process improvement initiatives are implemented correctly and meet set objectives. Specifically, the project manager outlines requirements, sets budgets, assigns deliverables, and manages project constraints, including cost, time, scope, and quality assurance.
- Implement a Continuous Improvement Agreement
Accountability is a key ingredient to improving the patient experience. Every single employee must take ownership of the patient experience and recognize that they impact the patient’s perception of care. Not only are they accountable for the service they provide, but also any improvements that need to be made.Implementing a continuous improvement agreement between hospital staff and management formalizes the commitment these teams have made to improve the patient experience. As part of this agreement, hospital staff commit to adhering to process changes implemented by management as a result of issues uncovered during post-discharge follow-up. Management commits to including hospital staff in the development of all process improvement initiatives prior to implementation.
- Public Progress Reports and Recognition
Very few employees show up to their job every day wanting to fail. Sharing positive patient comments, and even displaying them in common areas where all staff can read the good news, shows employees that their hard work makes a difference and creates a culture where the patient experience has value.
Continuous Process Improvement: A Healthcare Imperative
As healthcare organizations like yours look to implement quality based patient-centered models of care, you must come to the understanding that success depends on your ability to systematically and intentionally improve the services you provide on an ongoing basis.
Without this commitment to continuous improvement—and the ability to implement process changes quickly—you will be unable to take advantage of the information you uncover during post-discharge follow-up, reducing your ability to improve the patient experience and prevent adverse healthcare outcomes.