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Research Says that Quality is Defined by the Patient Experience - Are You Selecting Employees who will have a Positive Impact?

September 1, 2011
A recent study from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business compared patient satisfaction surveys with clinical performance measures to see which is a better gauge of clinical quality.  Interestingly hospitals that scored highly on patient satisfaction with discharge planning also tended to have the lowest number of patients return within a month. The authors recommended hospitals wishing to improve their clinical performance focus on improving theinteractions between patients and hospital staff. Certainly, correlations like this don’t prove a causal relationship, but it makes sense to some degree.  The conclusion they are drawing is that the interactions between patients and staff impact not only the patient’s experience, but his or her outcome, as well.

There is an acknowledgement that a physician’s ability to communicate has a positive impact on outcomes, and we know that the totality of the patient’s experience (including interactions with front line staff) impact their perception of the overall quality of their healthcare experience.  Another recent piece, though, points out how narrowly we tend to address this issue.  From the recent FierceHealth Piece, 3 tips on how to deal with bad satisfaction scores: (1) Advertise your scores; (2) Implement Customer Service Training; and (3) Improve Emergency Department wait times.  Really?  That’s it?  Pretty ground-breaking stuff!

How about a more comprehensive approach including training, continuous process improvement (that will fix, for instance, discharge planning), and REAL performance management with new levels of accountability for results and functional/behavioral competencies that have an impact?

A colleague recently had his first foray into healthcare after years of work in manufacturing.  His initial observation?  “Lots of focus on tasks, little focus on results.”  This is similar to a hospital which discovered that its nursing staff has a “nursing-centric” focus, rather than a “patient-centric” focus.  I don’t think the three steps above will address these problems. The solution?
1. Define the behaviors you need from your workforce.
2. Set expectations and hold people accountable.
3. Apply the science of selection, used for years in other industries, to improve the odds of selecting the right people during the hiring/promotion process.
“The authors recommended hospitals wishing to improve their clinical performance focus on improving the interactions between patients and hospital staff”.  Let’s face it, regardless of the amount of training you do, some people are inherently better with patient interactions.  It’s time we addressed the core problem – making sure you have the right people.

Bryan Warren Bryan Warren was the former Director of Healthcare Solutions at PSI. He was responsible for developing and promoting tools and services designed specifically for the unique challenges faced by healthcare organizations.