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3 Tips for Nurses to Improve Patient Satisfaction, Experience

Nurses are critical to creating a positive patient experience, and strong nurse communication can improve patient satisfaction scores.

In an increasingly consumer-driven healthcare landscape, improving patient satisfaction and creating a positive hospital experience are critical goals. Nurses play a huge role in achieving those outcomes.

As the main touchpoint for patients, nurses need to possess both the clinical expertise and the interpersonal skills necessary for a positive patient experience. Contrary to popular belief, the luxury amenities are not what patients are looking for in healthcare – patients want to feel safe, be cared for as an individual, and receive quality care.

Nurses need to refine their patient-provider communication strategies, portray good teamwork, and practice attentiveness to patients to yield better patient satisfaction in the hospital environment.

Integrate effective patient-provider communication tactics

Nurses are at the frontlines of nearly all patient interactions, making it essential that they have good patient-provider communication skills. When nurses can communicate well with their patients, patients will likely feel more at ease and more satisfied with their care encounters.

Having empathy and making strong connections with patients is something every nurse wants to do, said Press Ganey CNO Christy Dempsey. However, time usually gets in the way.

“When I talk about making a connection with patients and the six themes of compassionate, connected care, nobody ever argues against it,” Dempsey said in an interview with “Everybody wants to do that. The pushback is always not having the time. Nurses say, ‘you must be joking if you think I can spend 15 to 20 minutes with every patient.’”

It doesn’t have to be that way, Dempsey maintained. She usually just takes one minute to set up a positive rapport with patients, building on common interests between them and herself. From there, she can establish trust and transition to discussing clinical matters.

“Patients are scared to death,” Dempsey asserted. “They don’t know what’s going to happen to them, they don’t know if it’s going to hurt, they don’t know if they can afford it, they don’t know if it’s going to change their lives or the lives of their family.”

Fear can keep patients from retaining important clinical information and following care instructions properly. Thus, it is critical that nurses detect that emotion and allay those fears in their patients.

“When nurses do that 56-second connection, recognizing that their patients are scared and helping them to feel safe is one of the most important things that nurses do in healthcare,” Dempsey said.

There are some other proven strategies for facilitating positive communications for patients. Research has suggested that when a nurse asks to sit down beside a patient to discuss clinical matters, patient satisfaction goes up.

Likewise, asking a patient what matters to her in her care can make the patient feel more cared for as an individual. This conversation can last anywhere from five minutes to an hour, opening a perfect opportunity for nurses to build good relationships within the confines of their busy schedules.

Boost nurse teamwork, care coordination

The perception of teamwork and strong care coordination are key indicators of a positive patient experience, numerous studies have shown. In a 2017 analysis from Press Ganey, researchers observed that perceptions of teamwork among care team members is integral to receiving a high patient satisfaction score from patients.

Teamwork was strongly correlated with high HCAHPS scores, an important finding considering that HCAHPS scores are tied to hospital reimbursement.

This trend is felt especially in nursing staff members, another Press Ganey study found. Strong teamwork and care coordination gave the impression that patients are especially cared for, the report showed.

“By providing a framework for staff and leadership to share in responsibility, problem solving and authority, multidisciplinary unit-based councils give everyone in the unit a voice in the way patients are cared for and how staff are treated, and the practice encourages accountability and ownership of patient care outcomes on the unit,” the report authors wrote.

Driving a strong image of teamwork is essential for assuaging patient fears, said Press Ganey CMO Thomas Lee, MD.

“There are so many people involved in care today,” Lee, who is also a primary care doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in a previous interview. “Literally dozens of people are involved in your care when you're admitted for even routine things. A typical admission for heart failure involves more than 60 people, for example.”

“It's just plain frightening,” Lee added, acknowledging that hearing different messages from different care team members can be stressful. “There's so many more people involved in care today, so the challenge of actually functioning like a team is a huge priority. And it's not going to get taken on without making it an explicit issue with providers.”

Ultimately, nurse staff teamwork will help make patients feel safer, an essential part of providing a positive patient experience. Protecting patients, making them feel cared for, and delivering high-quality and safe care will help drive positive hospital experiences and ideally satisfaction scores.

Ensure adequate nurse staff levels

Having enough nurses on staff at a given moment is also key to creating a positive patient experience. Low staffing levels prevent nurses from communicating with patients, addressing patient medical and other needs, and being fully engaged with the care team.

Research shows that patients report more satisfaction with their care when there are adequate nurse staffing levels.

A study published in the journal Nurse Pain Management found that patients were less likely to perceive poor pain management when there were enough nurses on staff. Pain management is often linked to patient satisfaction, and is included on HCAHPS surveys.

“The findings highlight the need for adequate numbers of nursing staff to achieve optimal patient satisfaction with pain management,” lead researcher Judith Shindul-Rothschild said in a statement. “In addition, having a prescriber (physician or nurse practitioner) available 24/7 to offer continuity of care is essential."

A separate study out of Cornell University found that the type of nurses staffed also have an impact on patient satisfaction scores.

Looking at patient experience data from 2009 to 2011, the researchers found that a higher proportion of nurse practitioners per bed improved patient satisfaction. A higher proportion of contract nurses, or nurses not employed by a hospital but rather on contract, have a negative impact on patient satisfaction scores.

This may be due to the investment contract nurses make in their work. Nurses not employed by a hospital may be less likely to become emotionally invested in their work or engage in meaningful patient-provider communications. Conversely, nurse practitioners are highly skilled professionals who are well-versed in both clinical care and the interpersonal aspects of healthcare.

Improving the patient care experience must begin with the nurses. By ensuring nurses have the strategies to practice good patient communication and teamwork, hospitals can ensure these providers improve patient satisfaction. Additionally, hospitals must ensure that there are enough nurses on staff to ensure nurses have the time to practice these essential patient-centric services.

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