On a recent day, a small group of hospital leaders gathered in an unlikely place to learn more about keeping patients happy: suburban megastore Abt Electronics.
They sank into cushy recliners in Abtâ€™s model home movie theater â€” a space tricked out with nearly $500,000 of equipment â€” to learn about the importance of options and customization.
They strolled into the storeâ€™s cavernous warehouse where the flags of more than 40 countries were hung, representing the backgrounds of Abtâ€™s more than 1,500 employees â€” reminding the medical execs of the benefits of valuing workers.
And they saw signs bearing a company motto, â€œThe answer is always â€˜yesâ€™ to any reasonable request.â€
â€œWeâ€™re all consumers, it doesnâ€™t matter if weâ€™re a consumer of health care or buying a car or appliance,â€ said Susan Okuno-Jones, chief nursing officer at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, who was on the tour. â€œHow we treat our consumers and recognize our consumers is important.â€
Traditional retail businesses have long understood that they need to give customers good experiences to win their dollars. But hospitals have been somewhat slower to realize that itâ€™s not enough just to heal patients. Everything â€” from the way doctors talk to patients, to discharge, to billing â€” must go smoothly.
Thatâ€™s especially true in the Chicago area, where patients have many choices and fierce competition has even helped drive some smaller hospitals out of business.
Another reason for hospitals to up their game: Under the Affordable Care Act, they can gain or lose federal money based partly on patient experience scores.
Local hospitals are trying a number of initiatives to improve their patientsâ€™ satisfaction. Some are hiring chief patient experience officers, who work across hospital departments to boost patientsâ€™ perceptions. Others are sending their executives to specialized training sessions. Still others have put together patient advisory councils that meet regularly to give feedback about how to better communicate with patients.
â€œHealth care is changing to a consumer focus,â€ said Jason Wolf, president and CEO of The Beryl Institute, an organization that brings together hospitals and others to improve patient experience. â€œIf we donâ€™t focus on the experience and the kind of care we provide, youâ€™re not going to be able to â€¦ compete in the marketplace today.â€
10 top area hospitals for patient experience
Below are the top 10 hospitals in Cook, Lake, DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Will counties for patient experience in 2017, as measured by surveys sent to patients as part of a federal program. These hospitals had the highest unweighted scores for patient experience across the six-county area.
- Cancer Treatment Centers of America Chicago, Zion
- Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, Downerâ€™s Grove
- Amita Health Adventist Medical Center, La Grange
- Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital, Geneva
- Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, Winfield
- Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital
- Silver Cross Hospital, New Lenox
- Amita Health Adventist Medical Center, Hinsdale
- Rush University Medical Center, Chicago
- Rush Oak Park Hospital
Patients will go out of their way to visit hospitals that treat them well and avoid those that donâ€™t.
Karen Stillwell, of Marseilles, said she and her husband had a â€œnightmareâ€ experience at one Chicago-area hospital after her husbandâ€™s heart transplant in 2012. Eventually, they switched hospitals, heading to Northwestern Memorial.
Stillwellâ€™s husband has visited Northwestern three times this year. When he had an issue, she said, multiple levels of Northwestern management contacted her to see how they could help.
â€œThatâ€™s huge in a hospital,â€ said Stillwell, 64, of the communication.
Hospital leaders hope all their patients leave with such positive feelings, so theyâ€™re taking actions to try to inspire loyalty.
About a year ago, NorthShore University HealthSystem, for example, started a patient advisory council, made up of patients who volunteer their time to give the hospital system feedback. The system also named a chief experience officer, for the first time, in the fall. And NorthShore doctors are encouraged to attend special workshops to learn how to build rapport with patients and express empathy.
â€œYouâ€™re meeting people at their most fragile. Often, itâ€™s their most challenging time in their life, but if you can make a difference for them, show that humanity and personalization, it not only helps them, but it helps you,â€ said Cheryl Singer, NorthShoreâ€™s vice president for patient experience. â€œIt helps you go into the next patient room and take on the next challenge because you know you made a difference.â€
Other area hospitals systems have similar strategies.
At Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, employees and doctors are expected to escort people who ask for directions to their destinations (as opposed to pointing and walking away). Itâ€™s one of seven key behaviors employees and doctors are instructed to practice daily.
Rush hospital system nurses focus on communication and care coordination, often sharing details about patients in front of those patients and their families when changing shifts, so they can be part of the process, said Angelique Richards, Rushâ€™s chief nurse executive.
Advocate Good Samaritan aims to have nurse leaders make rounds every day, so they can talk directly to patients, fixing problems quickly or hearing what a great job their staff are doing.
â€œWe are in a very competitive market. Thereâ€™s a great hospital or surgery center on every corner here,â€ Okuno-Jones said. â€œHow we treat patients and the experience they have with us is a differentiator.â€
Competition, however, isnâ€™t hospitalsâ€™ only incentive to make patientsâ€™ stays as pleasant as possible.
The federal government deducts 2% of certain Medicare payments to many hospitals each year â€” and hospitals can earn none, some or all of that money back based on performance in four areas, including patient experience. Hospitals that perform particularly well can earn more than the 2% back.
Hospitals get data about patient experience by sending surveys to patients after they leave the hospital. The standardized surveys ask patients to respond to 32 questions â€” about care from nurses and doctors; the cleanliness and quietness of the hospital; responsiveness of staff; and discharge, among other things. The surveys had a response rate of 26% in Illinois from July 2017 to June 2018.
Hospitals in the Chicago area that got the highest patient experience scores in 2017 (the most recent data available from the federal government) included Advocate Good Samaritan, Silver Cross and Rush University Medical Center, among others.
The scores are important to many hospital leaders.
Silver Cross President and CEO Ruth Colby said she looks at the survey responses each day as they roll in, taking special note of any comments added by patients.
She said the hospital typically gets a couple of hundred thousand dollars back from the federal government as part of the performance program â€” a nice bonus but not a make-or-break amount of cash.
Many hospital leaders say the money is not the main driver behind efforts to improve patientsâ€™ experiences.
Competition and a sense of doing the right thing for patients are bigger factors, said Wolf with The Beryl Institute.
â€œI think whatâ€™s really churned the seas of health care is this realization that health care is a consumer market,â€ Wolf said. â€œYou have choice.â€
It was a message driven home to the hospital leaders who visited Abt recently. They reflected on it as they stood before Abtâ€™s indoor dancing fountain, flanked by a candy store, giant bubble maker for kids and internal Apple store.
â€œThatâ€™s what has to happen in the hospital,â€ said Lisa Petrilli, senior director of strategic marketing at Northfield-based medical supply and distribution company Medline Industries, which arranged the visit as part of its new Patient Experience and Innovation Institute, which trains hospital leaders from across the country. â€œItâ€™s not just the care, itâ€™s everything that goes into that care and making the patient feel loved.
â€œIf you can do that with appliances, you can absolutely do that with health care.â€