Try These Communication Strategies in Your ED to Increase Your Patient Satisfaction Scores
By Lisa D. Ellis
When patients come to your hospital for services, do you take the time to spotlight your organization’s strengths and let them know how much you value their health and well-being? If not, you could be missing an important opportunity to improve your patient satisfaction ratings and also get them to recommend your facility to their family and friends. Both of these oversights can result in lost opportunity, patient relationships, and revenue.
Why Poor Satisfaction Ratings Come at a High Cost
Since Medicare and many insurers now base reimbursements on how patients rate their stay in exit surveys, poor patient satisfaction ratings can negatively impact your ROI. These ratings are also shared on the CMS website, so prospective patients will see how their peers perceived care they received.
This makes it essential to consider marketing to patients when they come to your facility and letting them know you care about their experience. In addition to print, radio, and TV ads, your social media presence, and special events, your marketing and communications plan should include messages that can be conveyed by your staff members in their interactions with patients and their families.
In fact, the most successful hospitals today view every encounter in their facility as an opportunity to reinforce the message that the patient matters and that the hospital staff takes pride in delivering high-quality care that leads to best outcomes. Here we’ll look at how you can implement or improve these messages at a single hospital or across an entire health system.
Consider Focusing on Your ED Experience First; Here’s Why
If you want to make sure your health care organization is doing all it can to ensure patients will give you the highest satisfaction ratings, a good place to start is by looking at your Emergency Department to see if there are any missed opportunities you can address to make patients feel more satisfied with their experiences, according to Joyce Converse, Senior Vice President at Soyring Consulting, a St. Petersburg, Florida-based full-service agency that works with an array of health care systems across the country.
“The patient satisfaction score is 30 percent of the hospital score that influences the potential level of either incentive/bonus or reduction in Medicare payments to an organization, while the other 70 percent of the score is related to compliance with basic clinical standards of care and patient outcome,” Converse explains.
To put it into perspective, she points out, “The ED generally admits approximately 12-20 percent of the ED patients it sees daily and is the source for generally more than 50 percent of all hospital admissions.” Further, patients’ perception of their care in the ED influences their level of satisfaction in the other areas of the hospital they come in contact with—from admission through discharge.
Why Improving Communication Pays Off
Converse says the key to how patients perceive their care really comes down to a matter of how well your facility communicates with them. “The level of satisfaction is heavily influenced by how health care staff (clinical staff and physicians) communicates with the patient,” she says. It also comes down to the wait times, since when patients have to wait for too long, they may feel frustrated and unhappy with your organization. In addition, the attitude of your staff can make a big impact on the patient’s perception of his or her experience overall.
“The patient expects to be safe and cared for clinically, but what makes the difference is how they are spoken to, the tone, the level of information provided, and how long they had to wait for the information and care,” Converse says.
To give an example of how this plays out, she says to think about an ED where there is an extensive wait for patients to be seen. If the patient is ignored and not given any information about what to expect until he is finally seen, this can make him feel angry and frustrated. On the flip side, if your staff frequently communicates with the patient and lets him know that he will be seen as soon as possible, this will help make the wait much easier to bear. “Even long waits can be more tolerable, if the patient understands why the wait is occurring and communication is consistent,” Converse says.
Two Levels of Communication to Consider
Converse suggests health care organizations strive for two major communication goals to strive for, since these are at the core of your patient satisfaction scores.
- The first is to take a customer service-oriented approach. This means to consider how your organization communicates with patients verbally (through timely and caring interactions with clinical staff and administrators) and nonverbally (such as by having a clean, bright, and well-cared-for environment that illustrates that the patient’s safety and comfort are a priority).
- The second area that influences a patient’s perception of care is the length of stay and/or waiting time. To address this issue, your organization should make sure it us up on all of the latest tools and technology to keep things operating smoothly. Converse says to think about:
- functional technology for documentation, diagnostic ordering, and results reporting, staffing/scheduling/assignment
- treatment protocols
- adequate treatment space and functionality of that space
- ensuring the best equipment and adequacy of supplies to address patients’ needs
In addition to making sure all of these aspects are in place, it’s also important to make sure your staff members have solid communication skills, both with one another to make sure they are all on the same page, as well as with patients.
Looking Inward and Outward
In fact, Converse points out that coordinating messages internally and externally can help your organization to be more effective.
“It is not always about adding more staff, but refining systems and processes to make them effective and efficient so that staff can focus on the patient and the patient’s health care needs,” she says.
When the staff communicates with one another and plans ahead for the needs of the day, things can go more smoothly for patients. While many hospitals do such planning to ensure adequate beds will be available for surgical patients being admitted, Converse says planning for ED is overlooked.
“The key is trends. If you see scores trending down, evaluate what has changed and respond to the systems/process/knowledge/environment issues that may be contributing factors,” Converse says.
The good news is that when you invest marketing time and effort to improve the quality of communication with your staff and with your patients, your patient satisfaction scores will almost always reflect your efforts. Better yet, when you have high satisfaction scores, they become a marketing tool in themselves, helping to attract even more new patients, creating a virtuous cycle.
Lisa D. Ellis is the Editor of Strategic Health Care Marketing. She is a is a journalist and content development specialist who helps hospitals and other health care providers and organizations shape strategic messages and communicate them to their target audiences. You can reach her at editor@strategicHCmarketing.com.
What Do Your Patients Really Think? Find Out With This Innovative Marketing Strategy
Some of the most successful health care organizations think outside the box when it comes to marketing to their target audience. For instance, one innovative way to connect with your patients is by letting them know their experiences and opinions truly matter to you, says Dragana Gough, BS, MSCP, CISSP, Vice President at Soyring Consulting.
She points out that some hospitals develop a “discharge” card that asks patients to identify their satisfaction with the level of care they received and invites them to call the nurse manager of the unit with constructive feedback or concerns. This provides a valuable way to find out what patients really think of your service and to do immediate damage recovery if the patient is unhappy for any reason.