No business or other type of organization survives for long if its customers - those people who buy its products or use its services - come to regard it unfavorably. That's why customer-satisfaction surveys have become commonplace in both the commercial and nonprofit worlds.
UnityPoint Health - Trinity Regional Medical Center has long sought feedback from the patients it serves, according to Troy Martens, chief operating officer of the Fort Dodge-based hospital. He said two types of survey forms are used to obtain input from a sample of discharged patients - one is for Medicare patients and the other for the non-Medicare population.
The federal government's Medicare program actually makes use of information obtained through its surveys - in addition to a variety of other factors - to calculate how much a hospital should be paid. This survey is called Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems - usually abbreviated as HCAHPS. It is part of the federal government's attempt to ensure that hospitals have a financial incentive to provide care that is of high quality clinically and is rendered in a manner that patients find a palatable.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Shannon McQuillen, director of Trinity marketing and public relations, center, looks over some of the patient survey results with Dr. Elizabeth Day, left, and Chief Operating Officer Troy Martens.
"Literally how we score and how our patients feel about their experience in multiple scoring categories ultimately has a direct impact into the amount of reimbursement," Martens said.
The HCAHPS is designed to provide a comprehensive picture of the patient's time at the hospital.
"It's a survey that measures all aspects of experience," Martens said. "There are clinical components, the cleanliness and appearance of the room, the communication between the doctor and the patient, the nurse and the patient. Even food. It covers all aspects."
The information obtained through surveys is an important management resource, according to Martens.
"We use the surveys as a measurement tool," he said. "They can reinforce the efforts that we are doing around improving patient experience and help us learn if we are having the desired effect."
Additionally, Martens said survey data can help identify a problem, which may not have been previously recognized, that needs to be addressed.
He characterized this as an "opportunity" for improvement and said the management team at Trinity finds this type of information extremely valuable.
The patient satisfaction surveys are only one part of a comprehensive effort at Trinity to make sure that all patients receive top-quality care.
Only a small percentage of the people who are treated at the hospital are asked to fill out the survey forms. These individuals are selected randomly to make certain that the results have statistical validity. Every patient, however, receives in an information packet an invitation to bring any problems or concerns to the attention of hospital officials.
Martens said this complaint system is designed to be very customer-friendly and is an important source of information that can be used to manage the hospital more effectively. He stressed that patients are strongly encouraged to make use of the complaint process if they are dissatisfied or have unresolved questions about the care they received at Trinity.
"I want to make sure our customers know we value their input," Martens said. "We want their input both positively and negatively. Obviously, we like to hear about the great experiences we have provided. Those negative experiences - or less-than-perfect experiences - for us are opportunities and we want to hear about them."
He said it is not unusual for a hospital representative to make use of a complaint that has been received to commence a dialogue with a patient.
"If there are patients that we want to understand more thoroughly, we call them and invite them in to sit down and talk to us about what they didn't like and what we can do better," Martens said.
Both the surveys and the complaint system help the hospital improve over time, Martens said.
An additional mechanism through which input from members of the public is sought is a panel of customers that constitutes what Martens termed a "community sounding board."
"We have a group called the Patient Family Advisory Council," he explained. "Many times in those patient complaints we are able to find individuals who are very collaborative and willing to partner with us. We invite them to join our patient family advisory team."
Martens said this council has been in operation for about three years and usually includes about a dozen members. He said it facilitates dialogue with the community about a wide range of issues.