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HCAHPS Scores Aren’t Valuable as Patient Experience Indicators

Focusing solely on HCAHPS scores to measure success is insufficient

By Gert Volmer

Sharon Quinlan was inspired to improve patient satisfaction when she herself suffered a challenging healthcare experience. Both of her parents suffered chronic illnesses when Sharon was in her 30s, and ultimately passed away, but the experience left Sharon with a new outlook on the healthcare system that we all can learn from. This nurse leader has an intense focus on family- and patient-centered care.

Sharon Quinlan is now the vice president/chief nursing officer of Advocate Aurora Health. As a healthcare professional, she still finds that navigating the system remains challenging. On top of that, communication remains subpar.

In Sharon’s opinion, caregivers and clinicians haven’t always respected patients’ dignity, let alone the dignity of patients’ parents, family, and friends. The focus the system was placing on achieving outcomes didn’t help patients bear the burden of illness. This realization caused Sharon to become even more thought-centered about her leadership and practice. That’s why she is a proponent for care that focuses on the family and patient at deeper levels.

To accomplish her goals, she works to promote strong partnerships between organizations and patients. She recently sat down for an interview with Health Leaders Media Health Leaders Media to discuss enhancing patient satisfaction; below are some of the highlights.

Let’s take a closer look at her thoughts to see how they relate to you.

Try to see your patient’s point of view

Typically, patient experience is measured retrospectively. This leads to a narrow picture of the overall experience. Instead, be proactive — it helps to expand the view of what the patient is going through.

Nurse leaders must redefine for themselves what constitutes consumer value and patient-centered care to reach beyond patient experience, satisfaction, and CGCAHPS or HCAHPS scores.

Become an intentional listener

Before you do anything else, you must engage patients as an equal partner. One way of accomplishing that is to form patient advisory councils. This system enables caregivers to understand what the patient experiences so your organization can address specific needs and wants.

Another way is to utilize consumer research as a way of engaging patients. At Aurora, Sharon has an expert consumer research division to perform ethnographic studies. This research is extremely solid, based on the scale of measurement and data.

The company analyzes this data based on evidence. Typically, healthcare industry providers don’t do the same type of consumer research like most other industries. If you look at big companies such as Apple, you see that consumer research is a priority.

By performing more consumer research, you get the opportunity to listen to your patients. This data gives you the customer focus you need to get ahead.

Use data to improve

A big complaint about data from patient advisory councils is that it’s just a few people’s opinions. By using quality consumer research, you receive the power of fact-based data from large sample sizes, and you don’t lose the chance to dialogue with the council.

Sharon works in partnership with Anne Martino at Aurora as part of the patient advisory council. Anne is the Vice President of Consumer Engagement with the company. The discussions they have helped her to guide and focus initiatives and find opportunities for improvement. These discussions also leverage particular issues that are important and that further guide her research.

Sharon gives the example that billing issues had been an immense problem for the company’s patients and families. Anne decided to partner with her billing department to change the online billing process. In doing so, the transparency of the charges also improved. While this example obviously isn’t nursing-focused, it does show how a council paired with consumer insights can increase satisfaction.

Whether you face a clinical program or billing concern, consumer insight data is vital to improving the quality of care.


Connect with the culture of the organization

The last step that Sharon highlights is connecting to the culture of your organization. As a leader, it’s essential to tie day-to-day work to the overall organizational culture. Every patient has their own story, and clinical staff must be sensitive to that person’s perspective.

Caring goes beyond just the patient, to the patient’s family and friends… and from the leadership’s perspective, caring must even reach to the caregiver. Everything a leader does must reflect the care for the patient, and sometimes that means caring for the employee provider as well. The right messaging, when used in an organization, should reflect the importance of a patient to that organization.

By listening to the caregiver, and taking the time to understand the perspective of the family or patient, a sense of unity is achieved. Together, everyone can have the feeling that the entire care team is in it together.