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Hospital surveys help improve patient experience

By By KATE KNABLE

FRANKLIN, Ind. (AP) — TV commercials and billboards are part of how local hospitals work to attract patients, but the facilities also are striving to bring back the patients who gave them a try.

The hospitals are training every employee, from doctors to custodians to records clerks, in customer service skills such as how to greet patients and how to escort family members to wherever they were going in the hospital.

The results of the customer service efforts are measured in Medicare surveys that ask about patients' experiences, polling them on issues such as whether their bathrooms were clean and whether they would recommend the hospital to a friend.

Hospitals such as Johnson Memorial Hospital and Franciscan St. Francis Health-Indianapolis attempt to survey all patients, even though the questions are required only for Medicare patients. Their goal is to assess overall patient satisfaction in areas such as doctor communication and how quiet the hospital is when patients are trying to sleep. And from the surveys, hospital officials decide how they can improve their services.

The hospitals continually strive to improve their survey scores. Improving the quality of services increases patient loyalty, and that helps Johnson Memorial Hospital compete when people have several hospital choices, chief nursing officer Anita Keller told the Daily Journal (http://bit.ly/18FcPHR ). Treating more patients increases the hospital's revenue, she said.

Seeing the need to train employees to improve customer service came out of discussions of areas where patients gave the hospital low scores, she said.

For example, surveys showed that patients haven't been happy with how noisy Johnson Memorial Hospital is at night. So, hospital employees went through the building to listen to what patients were hearing, according to Michelle Bisesi, director of nursing services. The hospital has greased or changed cart wheels, created a TV channel playing soothing music, provided white noise machines and trained nurses to ask the patients to let staffers know if they're talking too loudly.

Customer service is discussed in every employee's evaluation and included in annual training, Keller said. Doctors' customer service skills could determine whether they can practice at the hospital, she said.

"All patients expect us to be competent. We better be competent," Bisesi said. "But if we can make them feel comfortable and create a good experience, not just for them, but for their family, that's where this return business comes from. It's the way that we make people feel that brings them back."

In the most recent survey results, 80 percent of patients said they would definitely recommend Franciscan St. Francis Health-Indianapolis, 76 percent said the same of Community Hospital South, and 72 percent said that of Johnson Memorial Hospital. Johnson Memorial Hospital's goal is to rank in the 90s, Keller said. The state average is 73 percent.

Medicare requires specific survey questions, such as whether patients' medications were explained to them before being given. The hospitals use the feedback to improve customer service.

"It isn't just about giving the pill to the person. It's talking to them, giving them a good experience," said Susan McRoberts, chief nursing officer and regional vice president for Franciscan St. Francis Health.

Typically, only new mothers are glad to be in the hospital, so to get good survey results and have patients come back when they need treatment, the hospital staff has to work to make patients' experiences as stress-free and comfortable as possible, McRoberts said.

Ways to do that included making eye contact when talking to patients and making sure they understand instructions they're getting for how to take their medicines and that family members understand, too, she said.

Health care is competitive, and good experiences are what bring patients back, Keller said.

"Patients are our first priority, and giving them exceptional care is what we strive for," Community Hospital South spokeswoman Lynda de Widt said in a statement. She said the hospital uses the survey data for internal awareness among employees to help them improve.

Nurses and doctors need to involve patients in their own care by making sure they understand how what they're told in the hospital relates to their health, McRoberts said. That improves patient satisfaction and can prevent further medical problems, she said.

For example, telling diabetic patients to keep their feet clean and dry might not make sense or help them unless they understand diabetes can easily lead to foot infections. That also could include explaining that a missed dose of an antibiotic would prevent the medicine from helping because a person needs a consistent amount of it in the bloodstream to work, she said.

Working with patients to keep them choosing the hospital when they need medical care is partially good business but also part of the Catholic hospital system's mission, McRoberts said. The hospital's values are for staff to demonstrate sincere compassion and respect while caring for patients, she said.

"We're in business just like everybody else, and we believe we have a great product. But we're also part of Catholic health care, and it's our mission to spread Catholic health care as far as we can. First and foremost, it's a mission, a ministry," McRoberts said. "We are to give care in such a way and show such compassion that they feel cared for and loved by us."

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Information from: Daily Journal, http://www.dailyjournal.net

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