Making Progress on Patient Satisfaction

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , May 13, 2011
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One problem is the chicken-or-egg conundrum of patient satisfaction and employee engagement. No one can say which comes first, but Lacy says HR can have greater influence employee engagement, and that’s where MHS focuses its efforts, with the belief that patient satisfaction scores will rise correspondingly. Without an actionable strategy behind the focus, however, “engagement” can devolve into a useless buzzword. Employees can be required to do many things, Lacy says, but they can’t be ordered to be more engaged. “You will not get engagement through a training program or reading a book or having a speaker come in or throwing a party. You need to have an integrated talent-management strategy,” he says.

Initially, MHS’ managers and supervisors undergo six months of leadership development that encourages concepts that support engagement. They use surveys to identify the high-performing staff who are strong patient advocates, and who are never satisfied with the status quo. Lacy says these are the employees who will lead the floor-level efforts to move the needle on patient satisfaction—perhaps even bringing less-engaged coworkers with them—by improving patient interaction and communication using techniques such as in-room communication boards, hourly rounds, and bedside shift changes.

“As you are beginning to hardwire those new tactics to achieve excellence, it is going to be hard for disengaged or ambivalent workers to get into that standardized behavioral competency that is necessary. The engaged people are going to get it immediately,” Lacy says. “When we have a higher proportion of the engaged, there is a higher likelihood that they are going to engage in those behaviors which get us to the ‘always,’ because they understand the importance of doing these behaviors.”

Next is accountability. The health system’s 5,000 or so employees are given blank sheets of paper at the start of each year and asked to explain how they personally intend to achieve patient satisfaction and quality goals. As part of a gain-sharing program, patient satisfaction survey scores are regularly measured at MHS and the results—good, bad, and works in progress—are shared with workers. “Every month we push out a very visible scorecard that goes in every department, so every employee knows how we are doing in pursuit of that team-shared goal,” Lacy says.

With the progress comes a strong “culture of recognition.” MHS has a program called “You Rock” that singles out for recognition high-performing employees who go beyond their job description to improve the patient experience. “We build recognition into our strategy,” Lacy says. “We use celebration and recognition to get our employees excited about the progress we are making.”

With the measures, accountability, and recognition in place, Lacy says the monthly improvement scores are welcomed by MHS staff. At the flagship, 452-staffed-bed Methodist Dallas Medical Center, for example, patient satisfactions scores rose from the 50th percentile to the 80th percentile over the past three years, and that is cause for celebration. “It’s really exciting and gratifying when we look in the rearview mirror and see the progress we’ve made,” he says.

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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