In recent years, we’ve written plenty about one major change in how hospitals and other healthcare organizations undergo accreditation. That is the requirement that: 1) hospitals measure patient satisfaction; 2) that hospitals develop a plan to improve patient satisfaction; and, 3) that by the next inspection, the hospital or healthcare organization demonstrate measurable improvement because of that plan.

This shift in what an accreditation inspection measures is consistent with the goals of employers and Medicare to improve the quality of care, boost patient safety, and, because of better outcomes, lower the cost of care. Hospital-based laboratories and pathology groups have watched their parent institutions take the baby steps needed to survey patient satisfaction and then actively work to improve service.

Now the outcomes from this effort are starting to attract attention. Just a few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal published an article detailing how hospitals nationwide are using patient satisfaction surveys to expose problems with they way they do business and get suggestions for how they can improve. A survey conducted by Michigan-based hospital chain Spectrum Health in 2004 revealed that staff members were given low marks for helpfulness and attitude towards visitors. It was also learned that patients and their families felt ill-informed about their in-hospital treatment and weren’t given good instructions about how to care for themselves once they went home.

Spectrum took its survey results to heart. It adopted a family-centered health care model, creating a patient and family advisory council to help shape hospital policy. Hospitals conducting patient surveys have found many ways to improve patient care, such as eliminating visiting hours, sending apologies such as flowers or candy to disgruntled patients, having DVD players in waiting rooms, and issuing $25 gas cards to compensate patients for long wait times that required them to return on another day for a test or procedure. Try Googling “Hospital Satisfaction Survey” to see how dozens of hospitals and health systems are conducting on-line patient satisfaction surveys.

Don’t forget that this is also the first year that hospitals will be required to participate in the federal government’s satisfaction survey program to receive full reimbursement from Medicare. The results of patient surveys will be posted on the government’s Hospital Compare Web site. First results are expected to appear on the Web site later this year. It will be the first time that Medicare patients can see how patients ranked their hospitals.

By the way, some of the nation’s most progressive laboratory organizations are already deeply-engaged in measuring patient satisfaction, then using that information to improve and refine their services. During the May 2006 Executive War College, careful listeners in the audience heard a number of case study speakers describe how their laboratories considered improving measured patient satisfaction to be a major strategic goal. Collectively, this is a trend that will raise the competitive bar in the marketplace. That means competitive advantage to laboratories using this tool.

Related Articles:

Patient Satisfaction Surveys Prompting Hospitals To Improve Patient Experiences

If Disney Ran Your Hospital: 9 1/2 Things You Would Do Differently
PS: Hospital measurement of patient satisfaction is about to impact another important laboratory service: phlebotomy. In an upcoming Dark Daily, we will share with you how and why hospital administrators are starting to pay attention to phlebotomy services, with an eye to improving them. It’s an unlikely turn of events for a service that been too often underappreciated!