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Charlotte hospital systems focus on patient satisfaction

By Karen Garloch
Karen Garloch
Karen Garloch writes on Health for The Charlotte Observer. Her column appears each Tuesday.
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- Carolinas HealthCare System
Carol Lovin, executive vice president and chief strategy officer at Carolinas HealthCare System

Hospitals across the country are struggling to change with the times. “Transformation” is the word often used by leaders of both Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant Health in Charlotte.

Among the changes is increased attention to patient satisfaction. Administrators closely review surveys that ask patients questions, such as whether hospital rooms were clean and nurses were attentive. Carolinas HealthCare even created a new position called “Patient Experience Officer.”

At a Carolinas HealthCare board meeting last week, Carol Lovin, executive vice president and chief strategy officer, reported on the changing face of patients. “We’ve always had consumers in health care,” she said. “Now we have customers.”

Hospitals are moving from a “wholesale mentality to a retail mentality,” Lovin said, as more patients are covered by high-deductible insurance plans and, as a result, make more of the decisions once made by employers or insurance companies.

Based on local and national surveys, Lovin said health care customers “want a lot. They want more for less, and they want it now.”

Surveys show patients want to be able to show up at the doctor’s office without an appointment and see a physician within 30 minutes. They also want access to doctors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And they want it close to home.

With this in mind, Carolinas HealthCare has gotten creative about trying to please. Physician practices offer evening and weekend hours. An Indian Trail urgent care center is open around-the-clock, and three others that specialize in pediatrics (in Cotswold, Ballantyne and Monroe) are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. And the system is expanding the availability of “virtual” appointments so patients can speak to physicians or other care providers online or by teleconference.

“We’re figuring out what we can do and how we can redesign care to make sure (customers) are getting what they want,” Lovin said.

One reason hospitals are so focused on patient satisfaction is that Medicare has been publishing scores from these surveys on its Hospital Compare website since 2008. In 2012, Medicare began withholding 1 percent of its payments to hospitals and using that money to pay bonuses to hospitals that score above-average on several measures.

But Lovin said the concern is not just about reimbursement, but also patient engagement.

“The industry is asking patients to be more engaged … and they will more likely be engaged if we understand what they want and what is going to work best for them,” Lovin said. “We want to meet their needs…The ultimate goal is better health.”

Garloch: 704-358-5078
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