Patient experience and satisfaction is fast becoming a top priority for hospital systems across the country as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) implement their Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program, which will distribute an estimated $850 million to hospitals based on quality measures in 2013.

The program, designed to award hospitals for quality of care instead quantity, places high emphasis on patient satisfaction, which CMS monitors through the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) Survey.

Improving patient experience and satisfaction cannot solely originate from a strategic executive level priority, but must be engrained into an organization’s cultural foundation. This approach will ensure sustainability. As many in the healthcare industry struggle to improve their HCAHPS scores, a few prominent players have distinguished themselves on the forefront of this healthcare revolution.

Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center, located in Thousand Oaks, Calif., has taken drastic steps to improve their patient satisfaction scores, and their continued effort is paying off.

What is their secret to success? Greg Angle, President and CEO of Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center, said there’s nothing unique about the challenges they face in regards to patient satisfaction. “What has set us apart is our commitment to improving patient satisfaction and outcomes through enhanced culture,” said Mr. Angle. To improve culture, efficiency, and ultimately patient outcomes and experience, Los Robles staff say they concentrate on five areas:

1. Make sure everyone is on the same page

“The first step to implementing many of our patient satisfaction strategies is to ensure that everyone understands why we’re doing what we’re doing,” said Kris Carraway, VP of Public Relations and Service Excellence. “If everyone’s on board, then implementation is much easier.” Carraway’s emphasis on the importance of hospital culture is backed by numerous studies that link high employee satisfaction in the hospital environment to improved patient outcomes and high patient satisfaction.

2. Listen to employees

“Each year we have what we call an ‘Innovator Award,’” said Kaylyn Meredith, VP of Human Resources. Employees are encouraged to present ideas that will enhance patient care in three areas: service excellence, quality/patient safety, and financial impact.

3. Collaborate

Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center iTriage

Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center

When Los Robles decided that their ER wait times were too long, the hospital staff worked together to solve the problem. “We created a collaborative work group and formulated a rapid triage process,” said Lynn Tadlock, RN, Director of Emergency Services.

This process, now known as the Los Robles ED Rapid Medical Exam Process (RME), emphasizes fast triage. Patients are greeted by a registered nurse who does a very rapid assessment of ABCs, while eliciting the chief complaint from the patient or the patient’s family member. RNs triage patients immediately, even interrupting triages that are currently being performed if necessary. By abbreviating the initial intake information to the bare minimum needed to make sound judgments about patient acuity, Los Robles is able to get their patients into the system within minutes of their arrival. Patients, on average, are now triaged in under three minutes and seen by a doctor in under 12 minutes.

Before the implementation of RME, said Ms. Tadlock, patients could wait up to eleven hours in the ER to be seen. “By the time patients arrived to a treatment area, they were frustrated and disillusioned with our service and this negatively colored their experience of their treatment, no matter how good it was from that point forward.” Now, in addition to being able to rapidly diagnose patients and initiate early interventions for at-risk patients, Los Robles’s patient satisfaction scores have soared. “We no longer have a waiting room, because there is no waiting,” said  Ms.Tadlock. “That space is now simply referred to as ‘the ER lobby.’”

4. Realize that small things matter

While Los Robles’s “Innovator Award” and “ED Rapid Medical Exam Process” have both contributed to higher patient satisfaction scores, an important part of the hospital’s strategy is to make sure that all their bases are covered. “The small things matter,” said Irene Brennick, Director of Volunteers. “We try to make the patient feel as comfortable as possible, which is why we make sure we have free wireless Internet, volunteer patient advocates in the ER, pet therapy and Patient Pal volunteers who visit with patients to make them feel more at home.”

5. Reach out to patients

“We realize that consumers increasingly value convenience in their interactions with the often confusing healthcare system,” said Adam Blackstone, VP of Marketing. “To help them in their journey from home to hospital, we’ve implemented two programs: ‘Text ER Times’ and ‘iNotify.’” Text ER Times allows patients to instantly know Los Robles ER wait times by texting “ER” to a number. iNotify, an ER check-in functionality, enables incoming patients to check into the ER prior to their arrival, thus streamlining the patient ER experience.

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