Improving communications: What can hospitals learn from hotels?
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
We live in an age where communication can make or break a deal. Doing it right has never been so important, yet there are more misunderstandings and misinterpretations all around. Ironic, isn't it? Since most have us become slaves to technology and instant communication, things actually can go wrong faster than ever before.
There's a lesson to be learned here. And who better to learn from than the hospitality industry, which works on the basis of effective communication around the clock? At least that's what the healthcare industry is quickly figuring out.
As Kaiser Health News recently pointed out, the ball perhaps started rolling with Inova Health System. Two years ago, Inova recruited a top executive from the hospitality field instead of the usual candidates with healthcare backgrounds. Administration gave only one reason in response to the many questions that were raised with this move — enhancing customer experience.
A 360-degree hospital experience includes great service through and through. Along with excellent healthcare, patients should also get complete mental satisfaction of being served well. To ensure that this is indeed happening, more hospitals are looking at learning from the hospitality industry. They have realized that improving the service side of their businesses mean better communication with patients, more attention to their needs and shorter wait times, all converging to create excellent customer experience.
Evaluation and ratings for hospitals around the country now include tracking patient satisfaction, a criterion that has grown in the last two years. Agencies like Medicare look at all-around patient experiences and not just healthcare to rate hospitals. The Affordable Care Act actually places penalties for lower quality of healthcare delivery, which includes customer experience, transparency and accountability.
Patient experience was not a big priority in the past as more focus was given on immediate healthcare rather than customer service. But rankings and comparisons between hospitals are beginning to affect business, especially as modern patients are more aware, more prone to market research and less easy to fool.
The penalties are a big reason, too, and many believe these have been instrumental in driving change. Surveys of recently discharged patients and their families now play a big role in determining the future of hospital business. These not only include the quality of treatment received, but also other related experiences like overall attitude, level of attentiveness, ambience and even food quality.
For detractors, these are not the important things to consider when judging hospitals, but the reality is psychological satisfaction is becoming as important as physical improvement. You may have had a great doctor and received excellent healthcare advice, but the front office attitude may have left a bitter taste in your mouth. Chances are you will not go back the next time even if the doctor was great.
What matters is an overall feeling of goodwill to imbibe the true feeling of better healthcare quality and safety. So great behavior, cleanliness, lower noise levels and great rooms are converged with great treatment options to make healthcare a quality experience. Patients are now demanding consumers who like to compare hospital ratings on Medicare's site just to ensure they are getting their money's worth.
Many hospital CEOs and administrators will work the same way as before. For them, great doctors on the roster are enough. But that is no longer working for most hospitals. The practical approach is to recruit seasoned officers from the hospitality industry like Inova has done and let them transform customer service into a truly powerful experience.
Along with change, it is also important to be open and flexible — another thing to learn from the hotel industry. Listen to your customers (patients and their families) and incorporate the little changes that they are looking for. It will make a big difference to increasing business.
Communication training for hospital officials — from administrative employees and management to nurses and doctors — is quickly becoming mandatory for most leading hospitals. There have been cases where physicians have resisted these changes, but the overall patient-hospital methodology has changed.
A study conducted by Richard Staelin of Duke University's Fuqua School of Business last year showed a direct correlation between patient satisfaction and health outcomes. Hospitals that reflected higher patient satisfaction scores were also places where the death rate among heart attack patients was lower.
Other similar studies found lower readmission rates immediately after patients were discharged, fewer falls and pressure sores with hourly nurse rounds and lesser wait times in ERs, all leading to better customer satisfaction.
It's clear we're entering a new era of the hospitable hospital.
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