Don’t Throw Patient Experience Out With The Bathwater
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Don’t Throw Patient Experience Out With The Bathwater

It’s undeniable that the conversation about patient experience has started to evolve in the past few years. Although it was once heralded as revolution in patient care, the focus on patient experience has recently come under attack for being at best, all show and no substance, and at worst, actually harmful to patient care.

In reality, patient experience is still incredibly valuable when used the right way. Here’s why.

Happy versus satisfied patients

In a 2015 article in the Atlantic called “The Problem with Satisfied Patients,” the author posits that in the rush for healthcare organizations to boost patient experience survey scores — because federal reimbursement can be dependent on these higher scores — some providers are seeking easy fixes to make patients happy. This, it is argued, is ironically leading to overall worse care for patients. This argument, however, relies on the assumption that the point of patient experience improvement these days is only to raise scores, leaving us to wonder if clinicians should ignore patient experience altogether. The answer, of course, is no.

Patient experience is incredibly complicated

Data is cited in the article that shows, among other things, highly satisfied patients with corresponding poor outcomes, as well as vice-versa. However, these situations happen frequently in the medical world. It’s an upsetting fact that can occur at the best hospitals with the best providers.

Why? Consumers simply know less about medical treatment than providers, and don’t often know what’s best for them. This, coupled with the fact that time spent a hospital is often stressful and painful, can lead to much confusion about what’s good or appropriate in the eyes of a patient. Rating a medical experience is not as simple as rating a restaurant, although to patients it can seem deceptively simple as both rely on star ratings.

Of course surface-level change is hindering progress

The article goes on to state that “many hospitals seem to be highly focused on pixie-dusted sleight of hand,” and that “they seem to believe that they can trick patients into getting better” with valet parking, extraneous tests, and larger portions of pastrami, thereby raising their scores. No one would argue that this sort of glib behavior is missing the point, though of course we shouldn’t throw out patient experience data altogether.

In today’s healthcare arena, the push towards Disney-level service is very much on the rise, and some organizations may use this in a way that’s disingenuous and not geared to actual improvement. But great service can exist side by side great medical care, and without smoke and mirrors.

Patient satisfaction and outcomes won’t improve until the hospital’s culture changes

To get there, true culture change is needed, not surface-level fixes. The whole point of surveys and transparency is to improve the actual organization and its employees, not to just slap band-aids on facades. For organizations committed to real, lasting change, patient experience occupies an important place as the culture begins to shift — but it must be kept in balance and in perspective.

At Doctor.com, that’s why we are pushing for more quality transparency to be included in provider ratings and why we work with clients to create better ways to analyze their data for insights and identify trends and averages.

The patient isn’t always right, but he is still worth listening to

The goal of keeping up with patient experience must always for one reason: to improve – both with the patients and for the patients. And yes, sometimes that means telling them what they don’t want to hear.  At other times, it means not losing compassion for patients in their experience while hospitalized at stressful, potentially life-threatening moments. And sometimes, it just means listening.

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