Toward a Best Informed Patient™: People can’t engage what they don’t know, let alone understand.
Research and best practices literature have consistently demonstrated that patient satisfaction is ultimately the key to sustainable success in a competitive healthcare environment.
Additionally, responsive, convenient access to health information and meaningful involvement in the care process are becoming increasingly important to patients in today’s information-centric healthcare society. With eight out of ten online search engine users searching for medical information, patients seek to be informed in matters of health.
Further, public reporting of outcomes and patient safety issues, coupled with cost containment necessities at the provider level, create a critical need for meaningful patient involvement in the healthcare process.
Satisfaction studies of patients, physicians and employees consistently point to one factor that can raise satisfaction: communication. The reason is simple: people can’t engage what they don’t know, let alone understand. Information is empowering; communication is the mechanism for empowerment.
In his book, The Baptist Health Care Journey to Excellence, Al Stubblefield, President and CEO of Baptist Health Care, calls it building a “WOW! Culture.” According to Stubblefield, “Communication—with employees, with customers, with physicians, with board members, and with the community-at-large—is at the heart of a WOW! Culture.” He goes on to say, “Public perceptions of the organization are shaped by information that the community receives from a wide variety of sources. I keep this in mind by frequently invoking a simple mantra: ‘Communicate, communicate, communicate!’“
Stubblefield is right: communication is the key to successfully improving patient satisfaction. It is especially important—no, critical—when you consider the practical realities involved in actually creating a culture of patient satisfaction amid the over-taxed, over-stressed, under-staffed “thousand fires” that is everyday life in the hospital. Therefore, to effect an improvement in patient satisfaction, the strategy must include a strong emphasis on communication—internally and externally.
Moreover, to be effective, communication requires more than a mere transfer of information. It requires dialog, and more specifically, communication that builds and engages dialog. In our view, there is no other way. Ironically, too often, organizations may pay lip service to the importance of communication, but do not have the evangelistic commitment to communications that Stubblefield exudes. They launch patient satisfaction initiatives with little or no budget for communications and even less of an engagement plan—and then wonder why they don’t see the results they want.
There needs to be a leveraging of strategy and resources to create full engagement and commitment—top-down and bottom-up; inside-out and outside-in. The vision, described with passion and expressed with genuine evangelistic conviction, motivates more effectively than a thousand staff meetings or “smile” programs.
Our view is that the desirable and realistic objective for many hospitals and healthcare systems is to create a patient satisfaction and involvement model that also stimulates trial and cross-experience within the facility and/or system while it builds patient loyalty—one designed to get important and key medical information directly into the hands of patients at strategically chosen touch points. We call our approach Best Informed Patient™.
Improving the patient experience and satisfaction, creating patient loyalty, is a sound business strategy that can be driven and enabled by communication. According to any number of recent Press Ganey Hospital Pulse Reports, patients want care that is safe, complete and delivered in a manner that respects their personhood. Patients reported higher ratings of safety and satisfaction when presented with more (and useful) information regarding the care process and experience. Press Ganey affirms that the top five issues impacting on patient satisfaction involve communications and empathy. In fact, the research reveals that a hospital’s ability to provide attention to the patient’s needs is the strongest indicator of a facilities overall performance score on the HCAHPS public reporting tool.
Because people are over loaded with information today, it’s important to determine and prioritize what outcomes are desired; then, in order to realize those outcomes, what strategic information each stakeholder group wants to know, what they need to know, what is expected or desired of them, and finally how best to deliver that information to them efficiently, consistently and effectively.
Best Informed Patient™ acknowledges and respects the concerns and wants of patients at all stages of their healthcare experience and creates meaningful dialog—driven by strategic communication—at key touch points. Essentially, there are four opportunities to engage and dialog with patients in the care process: before encounter, during the admission process, during the care encounter and after the care encounter.
In each case, it is important to understand and be responsive to the patient’s needs at that specific care process point. Applying strategic communications against these patient touch points can remarkably improve patient satisfaction and even outcomes. That thinking and opinion, that definition of, and delivery on, Best Informed Patient™, shapes our approach to brand development, communications planning and marketing communications execution for all of our healthcare clients.
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