How to improve patient experience in real time

Eric B. LoMonaco began his presentation at the AHRA 2016 Annual Meeting and Exposition in Nashville, Tenn., with a surprisingly blunt question: “How many of you think your hospitals are perfect?”

Nobody raised their hand.

“How many of you think your hospitals are great?” he asked next, as hands started to dart up around the room. “Good? Fair?” By then, everyone had raised their hand—and LoMonaco had made his point.

“It’s a tough question, isn’t it?” LoMonaco said. “Every day, we wake up and we get paid to be … good? Fair? What about our patients? What do they experience when they walk in our front door?”

Patient experience is very serious to LoMonaco, who works at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey, Calif., as the director of diagnostic and interventional radiology. And he wanted to take it to the next level.

In his presentation, “Achieving Excellence 24/7—As Measured by the Human Experience,” LoMonaco shared the story of how he transformed patient experience at his facility, and others, using a straightforward approach that bypassed pricey consultants and extravagant company-wide training sessions.

How did he do it? By developing a 24/7 hotline designed for patients to reach out with questions and concerns. One thing that made LoMonaco’s program different from previous patient surveys was that patients were asked about their experience while still in the facility. Posters were placed all over the radiology department, giving patients a QR code they could scan, a number they could call, or an e-mail address they could reach out to with their phone. Their feedback would then be sent directly to LoMonaco, who took action immediately.  

Receiving feedback from patients while they are still in the building is crucial, LoMonaco explained. It provides instant communication, instant service recovery opportunities, and instant documentation of significant concerns. And the program also provides the department’s staff with instant praise for positive feedback.

“We get to celebrate the staff in real time, not weeks later,” said LoMonaco, sharing stories of how he can now thank staff members for their hard work while the patient is still right there, in the exam room.

The other thing that made his program different, LoMonaco explained, was that he wasn’t asking patients to fill out a long, tedious survey. Instead, patients were just asked, “what’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to ask too many questions,” he said. “It’s exhausting. Just tell me what’s wrong. This isn’t a survey; it’s a question.”

LoMonaco is happy to report that the program has been a huge success. Once everything was live, he was answering three e-mails a week, three phone calls a week, and 5 QR code responses a week—and he was doing all of this with a response time of less than five minutes.

And the percent of patient satisfaction scores that were reported as “excellent” went up from 77.2 percent before the program to 92 percent one year later and 92.2 percent two years later.

“Giving the availability of this tool has changed the culture,” LoMonaco said. And, he added, this helps guarantee his hospital—and others taking advantage of the program—will not see cuts in reimbursements from CMS due to unsatisfied patients.

In 2014, LoMonaco wrote about this program for the Radiology Business Journal. That text can be read here.