Making Patients Happy With Less For Less

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Payors and the government seem to want the impossible. They want lower reimbursement rates with higher patient satisfaction scores at the same time. How is anyone supposed to make patients happier with less?

Part of the answer may be found by taking a look at what radiology practices and hospital departments that specialize in pediatric patients do to ease fears and get their young subjects through procedures.

In a May Ted Talk by GE designer Doug Dietz, he describes how his pride in a newly installed MRI turned to crushing disappointment when he saw the tears on the face of a 7-year-old girl who was about to be scanned and realized that the device he had so carefully designed was terrifying to the patient. His mistake, he realized, was that he had forgotten empathy in his design process.

Large manufacturers like GE and Philips now create amazing imaging suites that give pediatric patients a remarkable degree of control over features in the room that do not affect the procedure but greatly affect the patient’s comfort level and reduce the need for sedation. For example, the Philips MRI system unveiled this week at Astrid Lindgren Children’s Hospital in Sweden uses sound, lighting and animation technology to create a harmonious environment many adults might envy. It even features a miniature “kitten scanner” to explain the scanning procedure to young children.

However, one need not invest thousands in systems such as these to incorporate some of the key factors they use to make patients of all ages happier. As Dietz points out, simply starting with empathy for the patient can make a big difference in satisfaction.

In addition, there are some features of the high end systems that can be incorporated in less expensive ways. These are:

  1. Empowerment. Create choices that matter to the patient but not to you. Sound is an obvious feature of the high end systems that can be done cheaply by giving patients a choice of music to listen to or even a speaker that can connect to their smart-phone or portable music player. And there are many more low-cost options. For example, my kids’ pediatrician offers three choices of patterns in exam gowns to give her patients a bit of control over the disrobing that can leave patients of all ages feeling vulnerable. Cheap, but effective.
  2. Appearances. A small investment in the look of your facility can pay off big time by sending a clear signal to your patients that you empathize with them and care for them. For example, the outpatient Mission Children's Radiology center, which opened this week in Asheville, N.C., features a beautiful jungle mural complete with a toucan on the wall and a lantern painted directly on the MRI machine. A low-cost version of this for adults might be to simply to get a little help from a professional medical office decorator to add color and art to patient areas.
  3. No surprises. You don’t need a mini kitten MRI model to put patients at ease if you encourage clear communication about everything that may matter to a patient. Exactly how long will something take. How long do they have to wait. What sounds may they hear. What may they feel.

There are certainly many more great examples out there. If you have one from your facility, please share in our comment section below. (Also, please confess if you get teary eyes while checking out Dietz’s talk. I can’t be the only one to have had to reach for the Kleenex.)