Customer satisfaction ratings raise stakes for hospitals

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Don’t be surprised if your nurse or doctor seems friendlier during your next hospital stay. Measuring and improving patient satisfaction has become a bigger priority at many hospitals.

That’s especially true since Medicare started posting the responses of discharged patients online this spring after hospitals survey their customers on whether they would recommend the facility.

Hospitals had been polling patients internally, but having to report the results publicly in a standard format raises the stakes.

The reputation of a hospital could affect its market share, its ability to recruit doctors and how much money it gets in reimbursements from the government.

Among Nashville-area hospitals, surveys through year-end 2007 showed that 84 percent and 82 percent, respective ly, of the patients discharged from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Saint Thomas Hospital would definitely recommend those hospitals.

Only 42 percent and just over half of patients, respectively, said they’d recommend Gateway Medical Center in Clarksville and University Medical Center in Lebanon.

Overall, 68 percent of patients statewide said they’d “definitely recommend” their hospital, according to an analysis of the 2007 data by Press Ganey Associates, a South Bend, Ind., health-care consultant.

Elizabeth Lemons, vice president of quality and care management with Saint Thomas Health Services, said emergency room volumes and a hospital’s age are among factors that could influence a facility’s patient satisfaction scores.

‘The culture will win out’

Gateway officials said surveys taken in 2008 show a big improvement in the percentage of patients who say they’d “definitely recommend” the hospital now. At last count 62.7 percent of year-to-date responses fall into that category, said spokeswoman Benita Martin.

Gateway moved into a new building with larger rooms and more amenities in June.

Deirdre Mylod, vice president of acute services for Press Ganey Associates, said a hospital’s culture and focusing on patients’ needs generally are more important factors in how patients feel about a place than the age of a building.

“The culture is what will win out,” Mylod said.

Hospitals have worked to improve patient experiences by training staff members how to better interact with patients.

Eddie Pearson, president of a unit of Nashville-based e-learning company HealthStream, cites as an example the practice of formally addressing patients with courtesy titles such as “Mister” until they ask to be addressed otherwise.

University Medical uses the Gallup polling firm for surveys and has teams research how it can improve processes, including reducing patients’ wait times, said spokeswoman Anna-Lee Cockrill.

Craig Becker, president of the Tennessee Hospital Association, said survey results alone aren’t always a clear indicator of a hospital’s quality. “They’re so subjective,” Becker said.

Getahn Ward covers the business of health care. He can be reached at 615-726-5968 or at gward@tennessean.com.

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