The validated tool, he adds, provides directed feedback to the physician based on the percentage of patients rating that provider as excellent, instead of on the average total score. Hospitalists have felt vindicated by the results. “They were very nervous because the hospital talked about basing an incentive off of the Press Ganey scores, and we said, ‘You can’t do that,’ because we didn’t feel they were accurate, and this study proved that,” Dr. Williams explains.
Fortunately, the message has reached researchers and consultants alike, and better tools are starting to reach hospitals around the country. At HM11 in May, Press Ganey unveiled a new survey designed to help patients assess the care delivered by two hospitalists, the average for inpatient stays. The item set is specific to HM functions, and includes the photo and name of each hospitalist, which Fulton says should improve the validity and accuracy of the data.
“The early response looks really good,” Fulton says, though it’s too early to say whether the tool, called Hospitalist Insight, will live up to its billing. If it proves its mettle, Fulton says, the survey could be used to reward top-performing hospitalists, and the growing dataset could allow hospitals to compare themselves with appropriate peer groups for fairer comparisons.
Meanwhile, researchers are testing out checklists to score hospitalist etiquette, and tracking and paging systems to help ensure continuity of care. They have found increased patient satisfaction when doctors engage in verbal communication during a discharge, in interdisciplinary team rounding, and in efforts to address religious and spiritual concerns.
Since 2000, when Montefiore’s hospitalist program began, Dr. Southern says the hospital has explained to patients the tradeoff accompanying the HM model. “I say something like this to every patient: ‘I know I’m not the doctor that you know, and you’re just meeting me. The downside is that you haven’t met me before and I’m a new face, but the upside is that if you need me during the day, I’m here all the time, I’m not someplace else. And so if you need something, I can be here quickly.’ ”
Being very explicit about that tradeoff, he says, has made patients very comfortable with the model of care, especially during a crisis moment in their lives. “I think it’s really important to say, ‘I know you don’t know me, but here’s the upside.’ And my experience is that patients easily understand that tradeoff and are very positive,” Dr. Southern says.
Available evidence suggests that practitioners of the HM model have pivoted from defending against early criticism that they may harm patient satisfaction to pitching themselves as team leaders who can boost facilitywide perceptions of care. So far, too little research has been conducted to suggest whether that optimism is fully warranted, but early signs look promising.
At facilities like Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital, medical floors staffed by hospitalists are beginning to beat out surgical floors for the traveling patient satisfaction award. And experts like Dr. Cumbler are pondering how ongoing initiatives to boost scores can follow in the footsteps of efficiency and quality-raising efforts by making the transition from focusing on individual doctors to adopting a more programmatic approach. “What’s happening to that patient during the 23 hours and 45 minutes of their hospital day that you are not sitting by the bedside? And what influence should a hospitalist have in affecting that other 23 hours and 45 minutes?” he says.
Handoffs, discharges, communication with PCPs, and other potential weak points in maintaining high levels of patient satisfaction, Dr. Cumbler says, all are amenable to systems-based improvement. “As hospitalists, we are in a unique position to influence not only our one-one-one interaction with the patient, but also to influence that system of care in a way that patients will notice in a real and tangible way,” he says. “I think we’ve recognized for some time that a healthy heart but a miserable patient is not a healthy person.”