News Feature | July 29, 2014

Measure Success With Patient Surveys, Reality-Based Cost Data

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

Patient Survey Results

Leveraging patient surveys and outcome-focused metrics allows hospital to reduce costs.

Vivian Lee, SVP for Health Sciences at the University of Utah, Dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine, and CEO of University of Utah Health Care, wrote on MedCity News that hospitals and health systems can use patient satisfaction data and carefully calculated outcome-focused metrics to both improve the patient experience and achieve the best possible health results.

Speaking at MedCity News’ CONVERGE conference in Philadelphia, Lee explained how Utah’s biggest health system has embraced the national focus on driving down healthcare costs while improving outcomes by building the tools and resources to utilize outcome-focused metrics and patient surveys.

According to Lee, “patient satisfaction” can be more than just a buzz phrase. When done properly, it can be an important start to creating a more transparent healthcare experience for consumers. This in turn can lead to increased confidence in a given system’s physicians and the overall delivery of care.

 “Patient satisfaction – those two words are kind of an oxymoron in healthcare these days,” she said.

But beyond determining the level of patient satisfaction with care, Utah Health Care also parsed a wide range of data to discover what its actual operational costs were. Indeed, Lee asserts the health system as a whole has been somewhat ignorant of these true cost structures of their institutions, and is only learning now what they are.

The first step was to create a simple patient satisfaction survey to over a million patients across Utah, parts of Nevada, and Colorado within 24 hours of treatment.  Responses were categorized and benchmarked against national references. Patients had the option of rating physicians and experiences on a scale of one to four stars, and also included a place for user comments.

First the study shared results privately with physicians, and then ultimately publicized the results. Lee said this interaction is a critical component of engaging with providers.

Lee said physicians then invested in the review process, encouraging them to provide the best possible level of care, focused on health outcomes, and that in turn boosted the health system’s overall reputation.

“Forty-six percent of our providers are now in the top 10 percentile nationally, and 25 percent are in the top 1 percent nationally for patient satisfaction,” she said. The system worked with Press Ganey on the digital patient satisfaction surveys.

With regard to measuring costs, Lee said the health system sequestered its top IT people and had them devise a number of tools to scrutinize the cost of every department within the hospital in order to create a value tool to reveal outcomes against cost for ever patient. By actually learning the true costs, a hospital can much more accurately gauge the outcome, she said.

The hospital worked with the university’s business school to analyze the costs, and collectively came up with the best possible metrics to gauge outcomes versus cost.

When this newly unearthed information was shared with physicians, they then were focusing on how they could get perfect care for patients, Lee said. “In the relentless drive toward perfect care, costs came down significantly – about 20 percent on average. While the physicians are really engaged in quality, we see costs go down.”

Utah, she said, has seen its healthcare inflation costs increase by only 1.4 percent, compared to the national average of about 3.5 percent.