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Developing Hospital Communication Plans about HCAHPS Results: Best Practices

This blog post is taken from an article in the Q1 2017 issue of PX Advisor. In it we talked to healthcare marketing expert Debbie Landers about communicating HCAHPS results.

Of the hospitals with sufficient data to calculate a star rating, there are clearly some great success stories. However, all hospitals will need a plan to address these ratings both internally and externally. Given the complexity of the ratings and the potential for both internal and external audiences to misunderstand them, a good communication strategy is rapidly becoming mission-critical for hospitals.

Because there is little indication that these public measures will be disappearing from the healthcare landscape, Landers and Jarrard, Inc. actively encourage their hospital clients to embrace the data and share it openly.

Six Key Strategies for HCAHPS Communications

Landers shared six key strategies that her colleagues at Jarrard, Inc. deploy for their clients when developing effective communication about these ratings:

1. Be proactive. It does not matter where your score falls on the continuum. Share the scores openly with internal constituents and respond openly with external constituents when necessary.

2.Be transparent. This is the best way to build trust with employees, physicians, and the community.

3. Give “the talk” inside first. Educating employees and physicians is a not-to-be-missed step as they can be both constituents and advocates.

4. Define the tone and message on your own terms. Do not be on your heels for this. Talk to the media, but have your message and your tone well-defined in advance of those conversations.

5. Be physically engaged in the communication. In the age of electronic information, it is tempting to let the “Internet of Things” rule your strategy, but Landers encourages face-to-face communication with the media and physicians. In addition, most hospitals still use some form of a town hall meeting where this type of information can be clearly and openly addressed with internal constituents.

6. Shorten the news cycle. If you do not have the rating that you want (and many hospitals will share that dilemma), communicate the information in a positive and proactive way. Do not hide from the media. This is the time to talk about your current strategies and those in development. If your current scores are great, they can be shared and celebrated. If the news is currently not so great, this should be a rally call internally—an opportunity to help everyone understand where we do not measure up and to begin developing the strategies that will improve the patient experience.

Time to Shift the HCAHPS Focus

In addition to these recommendations, there are some overarching strategies that hospitals should have in place. Landers emphasizes never taking your eyes off of quality, even in the face of an avalanche of other types of measures. Those metrics are critical to physicians and consumers as well. She also recommends accepting the data as it is. “Discussions about the CAHPS methodologies, data adjustments, timeliness of data, etc. should be behind us now. It is time to pivot the focus to the patient and what we can learn from their experience.”

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