On June 16, Healthgrades announced the recipients of the 2020 Healthgrades Patient Safety Excellence Award™ and Outstanding Patient Experience Award™. These awards recognize the hospitals around the country that successfully make patient safety a top priority and provide an outstanding patient experience. For this year’s Patient Safety evaluation, all short-term acute care hospitals are evaluated based on an analysis of Medicare inpatient data (2016-2018).
Nothing takes away from the accomplishments of recipients, but this year is like no other before it. All hospitals have had to step up to deliver complex care to very ill or potentially terminal patients while battling a pandemic.
This year we are also reminded that patients aren’t safe unless healthcare workers are safe. Physicians and medical workers are laboring under relentless stress caused by an onrush of patients, shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), and rapidly changing protocols. They are traumatized by the number of patients, including colleagues, who don’t recover despite extraordinary efforts. Many are burned out.
According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, people under these conditions are more likely to make an error. Similarly, burnout is Concern #3 on ECRI’s list of Top 10 Patient Safety Concerns for 2019 — before the pandemic. ECRI’s studies show that burnout increases with rapid change and has a consistent negative relationship with safety and quality.
There are well-documented ways to mitigate the effects of burnout. One of the best is to celebrate every success — particularly COVID-19 patient discharges, which we’ve seen in the news — rather than focusing on the many things that go wrong. Communication also works — there’s no such thing as overcommunication right now. At Hackensack Meridian Health, for example, daily briefings that are both factual and empathetic are vital. Executives are visible and keep communication channels open to ensure frontline workers know they are heard and have the resources they need to do their jobs.
Impact on non-medical workers
Coronavirus has taken an undisputed toll on doctors, nurses, and other frontline healthcare workers. It has also ravaged the often invisible army of employees who keep hospitals running: people in materials management who dole out limited supplies of PPE and housekeeping staff responsible for room cleanliness, one of the key HCAHPS measures. Patient transporters, dietary aides, maintenance workers, schedulers, medical records and billing staff, security guards, volunteers, and others have been impacted. Many are loyal to their health systems after years of service, but their workplace experience and sense of safety have been upended.
We’ve long known that in the best care environments a patient-centric culture permeates the entire organization. An encounter with any employee, such as a friendly scheduler or transporter, can influence a patient’s perception of both safety and experience. This year we discovered just how much non-clinical workers are doing behind the scenes to impact quality and safety, sometimes sacrificing their lives. Their heroic stories, now front and center in the media, are getting the attention they deserve.
Since the onset of coronavirus, consumers are 65% more likely to choose a hospital based on the quality of care they will receive.
Silver lining: patient experience scores
Patients recognize the personal risk and other challenges healthcare workers face, and it’s influencing overall sentiment. The pandemic has sparked an outpouring of gratitude from the general public toward hospitals and healthcare workers. Even though Americans are seeing their doctors less and having fewer procedures, the overall perception of the quality of care improved by 13% in Q1 2020, according to new poll data from the Beryl Institute. Similarly, a Press Ganey analysis of 12,000 COVID-19 related patient comments during the same period drove home the appreciation patients have for providers and caregivers. Health systems can rejoice that current patient experience feedback reflects an appreciation for what they are trained to do — deliver high-quality care and keep patients safe — instead of amenities.
Hospitals and health workers should bask in the glow of the well-deserved public awe for all they do. Meanwhile, the same public is at home with pent-up demand for deferred care that is about to be unleashed. Once it’s safe to return for elective and delayed procedures, consumer expectations for an exemplary experience will return, too. Those expectations may even be higher: As reported through Healthgrades’ ongoing COVID-19 Patient Confidence Study, consumers are 65% more likely than they were prior to the onset of coronavirus to choose a hospital based on the quality of care they will receive, over other factors like travel time. Pent-up demand is also expected to reduce loyalty — patients will go to the provider who can treat them first. Patients able to get a telehealth appointment with a competitor may like the experience and switch.
Providers who are reopening their doors are leading with one message: it’s safe to return. Hospitals that focus on patient safety year after year and have been recognized for their efforts are already trusted as safe in their communities. Those that provide an exceptional patient experience have earned similar goodwill. Recipients of the 2020 Healthgrades Patient Safety Excellence or Outstanding Patient Experience award can tout their accomplishment to reassure their communities. Access a complete list of the award recipients.
Leading Voices from the COVID-19 Front Lines
Read how 2020 Patient Safety and Patient Experience award recipients applied best practices during the pandemic