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By Andy Roth

Part 1

In the past few years, patient engagement has come more and more into the spotlight as hospitals and other healthcare organizations look to improve their patient retention, their CAHPS scores, and their online reputations. It’s true that patient engagement is a vital piece of any organization’s growth strategy. Before throwing resources at ill-advised patient engagement initiatives, however, organizations should take some time to think through a scalable, sensible strategy for addressing patient concerns.

In this series, we’ll take a look at three areas hospitals can focus on to improve patient engagement — intake, nursing care, and provider care— and finish with an examination of how to effectively monitor and track patient engagement so it can be changed for the better.

First up: intake!

Too many hospitals think that “patient engagement” means gourmet cuisine and refurbished facilities. These things are necessary on some level — nobody likes bad cafeteria food, and if patients and their families see dirty hallways they’ll assume everything else is substandard as well — but they’re not sufficient. Luckily, the basics of patient engagement aren’t difficult to pin down. It’s simply about communication: the better an organization is at listening to its patients, the better experience those patients will have.

This means you’ll need to ask the right questions, rather than asking a lot of questions. After all, you can make all the changes in the world, but none of it will matter if you can’t monitor how those changes are impacting your patients. (You also shouldn’t make any changes until you’ve given your patients an opportunity to share candidly about how your current patient engagement is falling short.) When asking these questions, it doesn’t matter how you think you’re doing. The only thing that matters is how your patients think you’re doing

In addition to giving your patients a voice throughout their experience, a large portion of ensuring a positive patient experience is dependent on effectively setting expectations. If patients know what to expect, they’ll be happier. Even when things don’t go as planned, referencing previously-set expectations makes it significantly easier for service recovery to positively impact the patient experience.  

Intake is where this expectation-setting begins — and that doesn’t just mean interactions with staff. Does your ED have valet parking? Is the pathway between departments clearly marked? Does your organization track the amount of time patients spend waiting in line? These are just some of the ways you can set patient expectations. To be clear: you don’t need ED valet parking because it’s “fancy.” You need it because it’s important for people to start their experience with your ED smoothly and efficiently. Many of your patients will have mobility issues. None of them will want to deal with parking their car. This is something you can do, right off the bat, to show your patients that you’ll be taking care of their needs even before they think of them.

Maps and other pathway markings are important because patients and their families are in an unfamiliar location, and their minds are not focused on getting around. Again, you’re taking a worry away from them and showing you have their best interests in mind. Keeping tabs on the amount of time spent waiting in line (and then working to shorten those wait times) is also useful. These are important factors in patient engagement, and intake has an extremely valuable role to play. You won’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

With that in mind, what comes next? You need a way to quickly collect honest, insightful feedback from your patients that deals with the totality of their experience. This feedback cannot be limited to nurse and provider care; it must address everything, including intake, discharge, food, signage, and more. Modern, fully-automated patient engagement tools, such as Feedtrail, need to ask the right questions about all areas of patients’ experiences. These questions must be asked in real time, and the results must be automatically analyzed so that the feedback can be quickly put into action. Tools such as these will help you and your organization focus on and improve the right aspects of patient engagement.

Part 2: Nursing Care, will be published next Thursday.