How Creating a Patient-Centric Culture Changes the Game for Hospitals

Can you spot the direct connection between intentional culture management and higher patient satisfaction?

Providing a patient with the best treatment possible is, of course, a nonnegotiable. Everyone understands that. But survival in today’s environment requires that healthcare providers do more than they’ve ever done before to truly care for patients.

Hospitals that don’t provide a quality patient experience, along with quality care, inherently struggle with deteriorating reimbursement rates, as well as low scores on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) Survey. The long-term effects of these declines can be detrimental to a hospital’s health.

Sustaining higher HCAHPS scores is critical to retaining a strong market share and receiving uninterrupted government reimbursement; however in 2015, just 251 U.S. hospitals out of 3,500 received a five-star ranking.

If your hospital is struggling, you might be looking for the silver bullet to turn things around before it’s too late. But does a silver bullet exist?

Why “Quick Fix” Strategy Adjustments Aren’t Enough

Most hospital administrators tend to focus exclusively on strategy to deliver on the patient experience.

Even after many years of higher education, most administrators find it deeply challenging to define and manage culture. Those who understand that culture matters often don’t know how to communicate its value to staff–especially more analytical thinkers like clinicians who may discount culture an ethereal exercise.

As a result, we find that hospitals with low HCAHPS scores generally opt for “quick fix” solutions: a new patient rounding tool, new leader rounding questions, or handheld patient record-keeping devices. These new technologies and strategic approaches may improve communication and efficiency, but they won’t change the behaviors at the root of customer dissatisfaction.

Intention is more important than technique, and your intention is manifest in your culture!

The Cure: Create a Patient-Centric Culture

In 30 years of experience, Partners In Leadership has found that the hospitals with the highest HCAHPS scores do something different: physicians, nurses, and hospital staff are intentional about creating a patient-centric culture.

The magic of a Cleveland Clinic or a Mayo Clinic isn’t strategy. The best performing hospitals create a powerful mix of defining and executing on strategy and culture.

In other words, the most impactful change management approach encompasses not just strategy, but the culture that executes it.

Culture becomes the operating system, paving the way for strategy to function as the application. The application can only function and add value to the organization if the operating system is running well.

Align Staff Beliefs with Patient-Centricity

Every staff member already knows that patient experience scores are important–but they might not recognize the direct connection between intentional culture management and higher patient satisfaction.

To create a truly patient-centric culture, it’s critical that hospitals address the underlying belief systems that shift focus away from providing the best care possible, and instead re-prioritize the patient experience as the focal point of the organization’s culture.

Leaders at the highest-performing hospitals demonstrate the tangible value of this culture shift by creating meaningful new experiences that shift organizational beliefs. They become effective at storytelling, sharing patient-centered culture case studies and consistently rewarding staff members who apply a patient-centric approach to their work.

The goal is to clearly communicate the value of this approach, so that every employee buys in to the importance of a greater culture shift.

This buy-in is critical. Rather than viewing newly implemented processes (such as the mandatory use of electronic handheld patient record-keeping devices) as arbitrary, staff members will recognize the value of these changes as a means of improving the patient experience, and by extension, their hospital’s HCAHPS scores. They may even find that these changes provide an added layer of convenience for doctors and other hospital staff members.

The Competitive Advantage

Is there a silver bullet to accelerate change management and improve patient experience and scores? Our short answer is “yes.” If you get culture right, you’ll get almost everything else right.

Providing exceptional patient care requires more than implementing new policies or technology. Patient-centricity must be woven into the fabric of your hospital’s culture, informing strategic decision-making at every level of the institution. It requires that you become more aware of the impact of culture and build more internal ability to intentionally manage the culture. Time and again, we’ve seen hospitals make this shift and create substantial turnaround in their patient experience scores.

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