Patient Experience is Often Confused with Patient Satisfaction

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PEC-thumb3Based on a recent HealthLeaders Media survey, healthcare executives place patient experience and patient satisfaction as their highest priority.

According to an article in the July/August issue of HealthLeaders magazine by Jacqueline Fellows, healthcare executives place experience and satisfaction ahead of clinical quality, cost reduction, and even the efficiency we spoke of last Thursday.

The dilemma, Fellows writes, is that “there is little consensus about how to measure, improve, and incorporate patient experience into hospital processes.”

Patrick T. Ryan, CEO of Press Ganey, told Fellows one of the main reasons behind this ambiguity is how closely related patient experience is to patient satisfaction, even though they’re not the same. However, HCAHPS measures patient satisfaction, not experience, leading to a great deal of confusion when organizations want to improve the patient experience by improving their HCAHPS scores.

This may seem like we’re splitting hairs. But are we?

According to Ryan, “[Patient experience is] much more than patient satisfaction. The confusion that some folks come into the industry with is that patient satisfaction is about keeping people happy, but it couldn’t be further from that because when people enter the health system, they’re coming in at one of the most complex and stressful times in their life. And what they want most from the experience is communication and understanding of what their condition is, the path to the best possible health they can achieve, and a way in which to coordinate that with their clinicians and staff to ensure that they get there.”

To drive this point home, Fellows reveals a six-sentence paragraph that was given as patient feedback to Ardent Health Services in Nashville by one consumer:

“Real change begins to happen when physicians, nurses, and staff hear the voice of the customer, the voice of the patient.”

“It’s really about cultural change and maintaining that, which is probably twice as hard as getting to cultural change.”

“Patient experience is not a campaign. It’s an actual, critical part of culture.”

“If anything makes physicians act, it’s not being the best, and wanting to be.”

“It was horrible. When I pressed the call button, I couldn’t get anyone to answer. I could hear other patients crying in their room and the nurses weren’t attending to them.”

Chilling, isn’t it? And such feedback often devastates providers, Ardent vice president of communications Kevin Gwin said. After all, these failures are rarely intentional, but rather a product of the confusion referenced by Ryan.

As the week progresses, we’re going to delve a little deeper into the patient experience, looking piece by piece at different aspects of it and how other healthcare organizations have improved their approach.

What are some of the challenges your organization has faced with the patient experience? How did you confront these challenges and what strategies helped you improve their experience?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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