Hospitals across America are trying something new: Giving patients and their loved ones the red carpet treatment you'd expect from a fancy restaurant or hotel. The goal is to turn a confusing and difficult experience into a good one - better health for you and a better bottom line for them.
Upgrades range from bigger TVs and gourmet food to a new emphasis on respect, clear communication and attention to your personal needs. One headline-grabbing hospital system is even offering refunds for poor service!
But is it window dressing or better care? Is your hospital making the right moves? (The wrong moves don't lead to better health and could even be deadly.) The right ones, like getting more information from the army of doctors, nurses and other health-care practitioners trooping through your room, can pay real health dividends. Here are five things that'll help you decide if the new "patient satisfaction" movement is working for you.
No. 1: Great medical care still comes first. Your hospital's first priority is five-star medical care. If you're scheduling a procedure, try checking up on the track record of hospitals in your area (that are covered by your health insurance) for important factors such as safety, complications, infection rates, the ratio of nurses to patients and how often patients land back in the hospital after a procedure. Several websites offer this information; in a recent check, we found ratings by U.S. News & World Report (http://health.usnews.com/best-hospitals?ref=home) very useful. Then, check up on patient satisfaction ratings at www.medicare.gov/hospitalcompare.
No. 2: Expect stellar personal care, too. You deserve to have your questions answered politely, your water glass filled up promptly, a good night's sleep and help to and from the bathroom. When the Cleveland Clinic trained doctors, nurses and all employees to be more attentive and empathetic, and to communicate better, patients felt empowered and well cared for. That means better health. For example, when nurses do room checks more often, patients have fewer falls. In one big study from Boston's Brigham & Women's Hospital, of 2,953 U.S. hospitals, the most satisfied patients were those who went home the soonest after major surgery. They also were less likely to wind up back in the hospital.
No. 3: Speak up - they're listening! Low scores on patient-satisfaction surveys could mean penalties from the federal government to a hospital, while high scores could bring in extra cash. As a result, hospitals are more motivated than ever to listen. If you're unhappy during a hospital stay, don't just complain to your friends. Contact the hospital's patient advocate right away. They're there to help.
No. 4: Be realistic. Doctors who tell you what you want to hear, prescribe drugs or tests just because you want them to or don't get real about problems like smoking, being overweight and even mental-health issues aren't doing you any favors. In one shocking 2012 study, the patients who were most satisfied with their doctors/hospital care also took more drugs, ended up in the hospital more often and had a higher mortality rate! The researchers suspect that when doctors do what patients want, rather than being straightforward, health suffers.
No. 5: Don't be fooled by window-dressing. Fancy flat-screen TVs, new furniture and chicken cordon bleu are impressive ... but will these extras make you healthier? We're all for hospital food that tastes good and is healthy for you (hasn't gotten to most places yet), and for catching up on our favorite sports teams on a nice flat-screen, but the most useful patient-satisfaction upgrades revolve around your health. Hospitals at the forefront are posting patient ratings about their doctors, looking into creating easier-to-understand bills and training employees to give patients more information whenever possible. One example: Keeping the memo board in your room current with info about your next physical therapy appointment, the name of the nurse on duty and your expected discharge date. That's important!
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.