Go from this: crying girl in doctor's office

Go from this...

To this
To this: relaxed girl in doctor's office

To this!

Improving patient satisfaction: the first step

With Medicare now tying its payments to patient satisfaction scores, many hospital teams would love to know more about what child specialist Kim Hughes demonstrated during her first days on the job at a pediatric office.

Earlier in her career, Kim took a position in personnel and financial management for a medical office... but she soon found herself asked to take on a different assignment: calming pediatric patients.

The nursing staff and pediatric nurse practitioners were having difficulty giving pediatric patients a special hearing screening. The children were so anxious in the strange medical environment that even the most well-meaning of nurses could not calm them enough to perform the assessment.

The nurses noticed Kim's ability to quickly calm pediatric patients and, finding a willing partner, they trained her to give the screening under their supervision.

Their idea worked. The nurses were able to treat their patients and the children's own patient experiences shot up in quality.

When Kim later underwent the rigorous process to earn her Conscious Discipline® Instructor certification, she immediately realized the benefits hospitals, medical practices, and nursing homes would enjoy if they would employ many of the same principles.

Today, she works with doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals at US hospitals and nursing homes to improve patient satisfaction scores by improving the patient experience, beginning with the very first step: the patient's frame of mind.

Medicare and patient satisfaction: newly critical

Improving patient satisfaction has become even more critical to hospitals across the United States as Medicare has tied its reimbursement rates directly to high scores on patient satisfaction surveys.

"At issue are millions of dollars annually, all the more significant as the industry sees so many other dollars slipping away," USA Today reported on December 26, 2012. "Hospitals are at risk of losing 1% of their payouts this year if they don't do well on the surveys. That will jump to 2% by fiscal year 2017."

The Wall Street Journal listed the steps many hospitals are taking in response. "Hospitals increasingly have a new focus: keeping patients happy," it reported in December. "The institutions are putting doctors, nurses, and other employees through customer-service training, hiring 'patient experience' consultants and designating staff ombudsmen to handle complaints."

Among the topics on the patient satisfaction surveys? Staff attention, nursing and doctor care, and the hospital environment. "[D]id they treat you with respect and explain things clearly? Was your room clean and quiet?" USA Today explains.

But treating patients with respect, explaining things clearly and ensuring a quiet room for not just one patient but all others require more than a doctor or nurse's good intentions. These results require quiet and calm patients who perceive the respect felt on the part of the medical team. It requires understanding how the patient feels and taking steps to effectively show that... in such a way the patient herself feels it.

If a pediatric patient or the child of an adult patient is screaming, after all, no one's room within earshot is going to be quiet. And just because the patient is nodding and saying she understands doesn't mean she perceives a doctor or nurse is treating her with clarity and respect. A hospital may not find out what that patient perceived until that her survey comes back with poor marks, and then it's too late for all involved.

How are hospitals responding? "Special air-blowing vests keep patient warm pre-surgery. Private rooms are the norm... Patients are given clear discharge instructions. Cleaning is no longer done at night. Patients are taught the difference between 'pain-free' and pain-controlled," says USA Today.

These are wonderful steps but none compare with learning how to truly demonstrate, in a way that's felt by patients, that you care and want her to do well. That includes patients of all ages, whether it's a pediatric patient or a senior one, in a hospital setting or at a nursing home.

The first step is calming the patient so she's in the frame of mind necessary to take in your clear instructions and signals of respect.

Next: How to calm patients: some quick & practical tips (next)