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Patient satisfaction more influenced by hospital staff than facilities

According to a J.D. Power and Associates report released last week, high patient satisfaction is more influenced by superior service-related communication and interpersonal skills with nurses and physicians than impressive technology or facilties.

The 2012 National Patient Experience Study measured patient satisfaction across all areas of the inpatient and outpatient hospital experience, including: interactions with healthcare professionals; tests and procedures; admission and discharge; and facility environment. It also serves as a benchmark for the J.D. Power and Associates Distinguished Hospital Program.

[See also: J.D. Power: 4-in-10 with employer health plan would shop for coverage on HIX]

The study, according to Rick Millard, senior director of the healthcare practice at J.D. Power and Associates, found that recently-hospitalized patients have high levels of overall satisfaction. Overall patient satisfaction with their inpatient hospitalization averages 825 index points on a 1,000-point scale, similar to that of guests at luxury hotels, where satisfaction averages 822. In outpatient settings, overall patient satisfaction is higher, averaging 863. However, patient satisfaction dips to 788 for emergency department visits.

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The study is based on responses gathered between December 2011 and March 2012 from more than 10,275 patients who received care in inpatient, emergency or outpatient facilities in the United States.

“The study was done to provide benchmarks to compare patient experiences across all hospitals, and one of the principle things we found was that superficially there were similarities to our hotel studies. The level of overall satisfaction is very close to a luxury hotel in terms of the service experience,” said Millard. “It was interesting to us that there’s been considerable interest in embellishing hospitals into a more hotel-like feel. This is reflected by the lobby and services provided.”

Millard added that facility characteristics are more important for hotels than for hospitals. For upscale hotels, the facility accounts for nearly one-half (48 percent) of guests’ overall satisfaction, while in an inpatient setting the hospital facility represents just 19 percent of patients’ overall satisfaction.

“With capital expenses, some of that money might be more productively applied towards identifying and recruiting staff with really great interpersonal skills rather than updating the facility,” he said.

[See also: Patient experience a top priority for hospital executives]

Doctors and nurses account for 34 percent of the overall experience ratings for inpatients, and their influence is even higher (43 percent) among patients in emergency settings. Among outpatients, doctors and other healthcare professionals represent 50 percent of their overall experience.

Millard said solid interpersonal skills are especially necessary for handling the types of problems that may arise during hospitalization. When problems do occur, they may jeopardize patient satisfaction. According to the study, staff service and staff attitude are the most common types of problems that patients experience. Patients who say they had any problem with their room or hospital staff rate their overall experience a 5.3 a 10-point scale, compared with 8.7 among patients that did not experience any problems.  

Millard added that almost a third of the overall patient experience was driven by events that didn’t occur during the care process in the hospital. More specifically, satisfaction was driven by patients’ experiences with admission and discharge.

“This accounted for a lot in understanding what drives patient experience. Check-ins and check-outs at hotels are very important checkpoints with satisfaction – and even more influential with hospitals,” he said.

Millard said that among inpatients, 35 percent of the overall patient experience is predicted by the admission and discharge process, yet the impact is much less in emergency and outpatient settings, where it is 19 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

“The first and last impressions are very important for a patient, much like they are for hotel guests,” he said. “Getting a patient into a room quickly at the start of their hospital stay, and ensuring a smooth process during discharge, along with a follow-up call once the patient gets home to make sure they’re doing okay, goes a long way toward achieving high satisfaction.”