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4 best practices for boosting your HCAHPS scores

With HCAHPS Survey* scores determining up to 2% of Medicare payments, every patient interaction with clinical and non-clinical care team members may end up influencing the bottom line. We recognize the care and focus clinicians put on each patient who will fill out that all-important survey after they’re discharged.  

At the same time, patients are becoming savvy consumers and often have a choice of where to receive care. With more people opting for high deductible plans, patients are more price conscious than ever. When looking at thousands of dollars in medical expenses, you can be certain they pay close attention to how they’re treated as they receive care. Today, patients often pay attention to a hospital’s star ratings on Hospital Compare, where the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) publishes HCAHPS scores and compares state and national averages.  

With hospitals’ financial health and reputation on the line, many are looking for strategies on how to improve their HCAHPS scores. Here are four ways technology can help improve care team response and collaboration to provide the best patient experience possible: 

1. Rapid response: speeding quality interactions 

One of the 11 HCAHPS measures is “responsiveness of hospital staff.” Since public reporting began, the average response in this category has increased from 60 to 70%. That’s a nice jump, but there’s further improvement needed, and technology can help inform clinicians when and where they need to take action. 

Poor communication can negatively impact the quality and speed (“responsiveness”) of patient care. For example, if calls for assistance go to a central nursing station, someone must track down the nurse assigned to that patient, relay the message, and finally, respond to the patient. 

Hospitals can cut out these time-consuming steps with software that sends request notifications from the patient’s nurse call button directly to the correct caregiver’s mobile device. The clinician can then directly connect to the patient’s pillow speaker to determine the need. If the patient just wants a glass of water, the nurse might direct it to a nonclinical staff member to fulfill that request. If the patient is in pain, they’ll respond directly and immediately. A speedy response to a patient request cuts stress and increases satisfaction. 

2. Nix the noise: minimize disturbances through secure messaging and 
effective notifications 

The “quietness of the hospital environment” frequently ranks lowest among the HCAHPS survey categories, as it did in the most recent report from CMS. While that figure has improved nearly 10% in recent years, it remains among the lowest-ranking survey categories. Even as rest can significantly impact patient recovery, research notes the adverse effects of poor sleep on the healing process due to environmental factors. Hospitals can be noisy places with numerous beeps, overhead paging, and hallway conversations. 

Among the biggest noise culprits are patient monitoring alarms, whose sounding frequency can lead to clinician alarm fatigue, a patient safety hazard. While critical alarms should never be disabled, hospitals can reduce their frequency. Using alarm filtering or alarm surveillance technology are a few ways to reduce false positives that disrupt patient rest. 

Mobile device notifications are another way to promote a quiet environment for rest and healing. Integrated call notification and staff assignment systems reduce overhead paging by routing patient alarm notifications directly to appropriate staff. Mobile devices also enable secure messaging among care team members, which cuts down on hallway conversations—improving information security and minimizing patient disturbance. 

3. Palliate pain: improving communication to escalate requests 

The longer patients are in pain, the unhappier they’ll be. Yet communication problems can cause many delays to alleviating pain. An important first step is to help minimize the communication delay to ensure that the patient receives a fast response to their nurse call request. A good clinical communication system will automatically route alerts to the primary nurse or escalate the request to another clinician if the primary nurse is unavailable. 

An existing order in the patient’s chart allows the nurse to administer pain relief right away. But if no order exists, the nurse must consult with the patient’s physician. An efficient communication system helps the nurse locate the physician quickly via an online enterprise directory and on-call schedules, and then use secure messaging to send the request for additional/new pain medication. The physician can either enter an order immediately or call the nurse for more information, alleviating patient pain quickly.

4. Drama-free discharge: streamline collaboration to smooth release 

When patients are ready for release, they expect a smooth and efficient discharge from the hospital. Communication breakdowns among the care team cause unnecessary delays and leave patients with a poor experience before they exit through the hospital doors and complete the HCAHPS questionnaire. Secure messaging streamlines the discharge process by sending messages from the patient’s EHR, while taking advantage of the staff directory and on-duty/on-call status to reach the entire team. Clinical care team members can communicate and agree that discharge today is OK, then nonclinical care team members like transport, environmental services, and even the valet can be notified to prepare for the patient’s departure and prepare for the next patient’s arrival. Streamlining the release processes helps to ensure that patients are able to leave sooner and happier. 

While hospitals have done much to improve HCAHPS scores, there’s still a long road ahead. Patient satisfaction is influenced by many factors, but at the core of nearly every interaction with hospital staff is effective communication. Communication technology can help improve the patient experience by quickly connecting everyone involved in patient care, including the patient. 

* HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) Survey is the first national, standardized, publicly reported survey of patients’ perspectives of hospital care. 

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 2017 and has been updated for relevancy and accuracy.