How to Improve HCAHPS Score for Your Medical Practice

What is HCAHPS Score and Why is it Important?

Your HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) is the measure of how satisfied your patients are with your service.

The HCAHPS score is crucial because it is publicly reported on the Medicare website where anyone can access it, and also because a low score can reduce your practice’s Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement by as much as 2%.

Now that you know what HCAHPS is and why scoring high is important, here’s how you can work towards improving your score.

1. Focus on Patient Experience:

Since the HCAHPS score is all about how patients ‘felt’ about your services, improving their overall experience can impact your scores positively. Train all your hospital staff, including nurses, doctors, lab technicians, and anyone coming in contact with patients to:

  • Behave respectfully
  • Listen carefully
  • Communicate effectively, and
  • Respond immediately (or as soon as possible)
2. Be Proactive:

The Nursing shortage is a real thing, but you cannot expect your patients to understand that. Your HCAHPS score will reflect your patients’ disappointment if they don’t receive assistance when they need it. One of the best solutions to this problem is being proactive, such as having an hourly rounding system. It would ease the patients’ anxiety knowing that someone will be coming to check on them every hour, thus reducing missed bell presses for assistance.

The many hospitals that have implemented it reported the following:

Apart from hourly rounds, you can also take the proactive approach taken by the nurses at Utah's Surgical and Treatment Unit (SSTU). They anticipated patient needs, and then followed a set of procedures which included listening reflectively, helping patients keep their phone fully charged, and telling them exactly what time they would return. It showed positive results – their nurse response time improved by lowering the frequency of calls. It also helped them improve their HCAHPS scores by 20-30%.

3. Build Creative Relationships with Patients:

HCAHPS is based on perception and providers need to be creative and forward thinking to build a strong relationship with their patients. One way to do that is interacting and engaging with patients in the hospital premises by having some arrangement like group therapy. Other way is to interact with them off the premises through healthcare digital marketing.

A healthcare marketing specialist agency can help you by providing your patients’ convenience, and the ability to make an appointment with ease. Going digital allows you to exercise a greater level of freedom in devising ways in which you want to connect with your patients and build a long-lasting relationship with them. It starts on shaping a positive perception about you before even they've visited you.

4. Educate Patients:

It is crucial to keep your patients informed about everything from their condition and the medication you prescribe to pain management and after-hospitalization care because questions related to patient education make up most of the HCAHPS questionnaire.

Educate your patients at every interaction with them; at the first appointment, before and after surgery, during your check-ups, when they get discharged, and even post-treatment through social media, emails, text messages, or patient portal. Involve them by helping them acquire good lifestyle habits for long-lasting benefits. Discuss post-hospitalization help with patients, this could be about symptoms or health problems to look out for, lifestyle changes, written medication details, and when to call the hospital for help.

The goal should be to empower your patients with pertinent information and providing them with tools to get them to feel great about your way of treatment. Their satisfaction will improve HCAHPS scores for you!

5. Conduct Internal Surveys:

So, you want to improve your HCAHPS score, but how would you know which area needs improvement? A simple hack is by conducting internal patient surveys. Create an internal survey that your patients can answer anonymously and point out the problems you need to improve. By working on your weaknesses, you can ensure a better and improved HCAHPS score.

6. Involve Nurses in Strategy Considerations:

As your nurses are on the front lines and can more readily identify existing barriers to improved care, your strategy considerations to improve HCAHPS scores should also include the participation of nurses. Make the HCAHPS discussion part of every regular staff meeting. Don't just impose your rules. Rather, get feedback and ideas from nurses too, and incorporate them into your practice. Remember that most of the HCAHPS questions deal in assessing nurses' behaviors and actions towards providing quality care to the patients, so you shouldn't also lag in any way in improving your nursing care.

7. Prioritize Mobility for Patients:

Most of the hospitals do well in making patients' access to the bathroom or bedpans is easy. This is also visible in their improved HCAHPS scores. Hospitals or clinics that do not consider these a priority should also start working on it now. If cost barriers restrict you from improving on the infrastructure immediately, you can schedule patients' bathroom visits and provide them the needed assistance at a fixed time. This will go a long way towards boosting how your patients will assess your service.

8. Reduce Ambient Noise Level:

One of the major questions in the HCAHPS survey that consistently earns the lowest satisfaction scores is about the noise levels during night time. Ringing phones, beepers, and overhead paging are the most common and consistently appearing sounds heard 24/7 in hospitals. A loud level of noise not only disrupts the healing process but also unsettles and irritates your patients. You can ask your staff to switch off the phones and use text-based systems in place for any sort of information updates. Your patients will highly appreciate this.

9. Impress Patients with Cleanliness:

Cleanliness isn't just about a bright and clean-looking hospital space, sterilized medical devices, and clean meal trays, etc. It's also about having a culture to keep clean where even doctors and staff can also be seen washing their hands, putting on fresh gloves just before procedures. Apart from these, a decluttered hospital space that allows improved mobility is also something your patients will admire and appreciate.

10. Manage Patients' Pain Smartly

No matter how good treatment you provide, if you can't relax your patients in terms of their pain, you can't expect them to be fully satisfied. However, you should avoid having your patients depend on prescription pain pills for improving your HCAHPS scores as we already have evidence that HCAHPS may have a hand in the opioid epidemic in America. HCAHPS has taken these into consideration and has (just recently) updated the current pain management questions (12, 13, and 14) to focus on the hospital's communications with patients about the patients' pain during the hospital stay.

The question addresses whether alternative methods of managing pain were offered or provided to the patient, including multimodal pain care, which includes non-opioid analgesics, regional analgesia, and non-pharmacological methods of pain relief in addition to opioid medications.

Design a high-quality pain management system that ensures appropriate assessment, family input, and include non-pharmacological therapies. A regular pain evaluation and reassessment will also help in catching a deteriorating trend before it’s too late. The more involved you are with trying to solve your patients' pain problems, the more satisfied they are going to feel about you.

HCAHPS survey questions provide multiple choice answers in the form of Never, Sometimes, Usually, and Always, and the percentage of respondents to the “Always” questions is the only score publicly reported on the Hospital Compare website. This means that you have to perform nothing less than excellent on all the fronts (mentioned above) for improving your hospital's overall rating by Medicare.


Ajay Prasad

Ajay Prasad is the Founder and President of GMR Web Team, a leading healthcare digital marketing agency. He guides small and medium size healthcare practices/businesses in customizing their online marketing strategy, focused on building a loyal base of patients and improving their patient acquisition. Ajay believes in an improved patient experience as the key to successful healthcare business, which can be accomplished with the right marketing plan in place.

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