Create the best first impression for patients

In Part 2 of our series on developing a winning HCAHPS score strategy, we take a closer look at first impressions. Many possible measurements of patient satisfaction exist, but if your hospital is like most, HCAHPS scores really matter (largely because they make up a whopping 25% of your facility’s Total Performance Score).

But what if those scores aren’t where they should be? Patients being underwhelmed by their hospital experience is bad enough. But since 2017, every acute care hospital’s base and consistency HCAHPS scores also tie to reimbursement—with facilities being rewarded or penalized by up to 2 percent of their overall Medicare reimbursement. That’s an increase from 1.5% plus/minus instituted in 2015. Such a percentage might seem small, but when a facility’s Medicare reimbursements account for millions of dollars in revenue, it can have a major impact.

If your HCAHPS scores are lacking, hospital administrators have probably charged someone—maybe it’s you—with remedying the situation quickly. Or if the scores are high, there’s surely a desire to maintain those numbers. No one wants an unexpected shock like the one experienced by the 437 hospitals who received bonuses tied to patient satisfaction in 2016, only to be docked up to 2% of their Medicare reimbursement totals the following year.

So we can all agree that HCAHPS scores are important, and you’re either in need of boosting or maintaining your own scores. The next question is, where to focus your energies?

The beginning. A very good place to start.

Based on conversations with your peers at hundreds of hospitals, we’ve come up with a simple first step: start at the beginning. A lot can happen between the time a patient is admitted and when they’re discharged. But how a patient starts his or her experience can go a long way to framing the entire care journey, for better or for worse.

As such, it’s crucial to consider how to create a winning first impression. True, this step can occur even before the patient enters your hospital, but for now, let’s begin with what happens when they walk through the front door.

As we described in the penultimate part of our recent series Improving the Economy of Surgical Services, any time a person has need for a hospital, it’s a nerve-wracking experience. It doesn’t matter if your hospital has the best staff, the latest and greatest technology, or the poshest facility. Even if the visit is for a “minor” or “routine” procedure, anxiety happens. As such, it’s up to your staff to put the patient’s mind at ease.

Let’s think about this from the perspective of admissions. If your hospital still relies on paper forms, the first step of the patient journey means filling out and signing a stack of paperwork. If I’m a return patient to your facility, this is frustrating x 10. “Why don’t you already know all this information?” is a valid question … and one your patient registration desk likely hears daily. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Easier process = higher scores

If your hospital switched from paper forms to electronic forms authorized with electronic signatures, this first step of the patient experience is literally transformed. Once you’ve registered the patient once in your EMR, an EMR-integrated eForm would pre-fill with the required data. Instead of handing the patient a clipboard, you’d present them with a sleek tablet. Simplifying and speeding their completion of any outstanding information, and letting them easily apply a secure electronic signature.

Rather than having to scan the patient forms or send them to HIM/medical records for processing, they automatically route into the correct chart in the EMR, so there’s no chance of the documents being misplaced or incorrectly indexed. It means never having to trouble a patient again because “Sorry, we lost the form.”

For both one-off and returning patients, electronic forms remove unnecessary paper-related hassles, delays, and redundancies that can tarnish patient satisfaction from the get-go. Removing hard forms and handwriting at patient registration might seem like a small step, but it sets the tone for an entire visit, and as a result, the likelihood of a better grade on the HCAHPS survey.

The saying, “Your first impression is your last impression” might be old, but it is also true. Knowing what’s at stake if HCAHPS scores take a hit, it just makes sense to simplify the patient experience right from the start.


David Wells

Written by David Wells

After receiving his Juris Doctor degree, David oversaw clinical and administrative compliance and supervised the implementation of paperless initiatives at a large non-profit. He joined Access in 2008 and specializes in matching the right e-forms solution to the needs of corporate partners and their customers.