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Patient experience scores rebound after pandemic dip

Despite patient experience improvements, patient satisfaction scores still vary by race and age.

Patient experience scores are on the up and up, with new Press Ganey data showing that satisfaction in ambulatory surgery and medical practices has reached a five-year high.

The report, which used the patient experience consultant's own repository of data, did show some disparities in patient experience, particularly as it relates to race and age.

"Data holds the key to driving meaningful improvements, helping healthcare organizations personalize care, address disparities, and create exceptional experiences for all patients," said Patrick Ryan, Press Ganey's chairman and CEO, in a press release. "Top-scoring organizations in patient experience embrace data-driven strategies to break down silos, pinpoint areas for improvement and identify what’s working well."

These findings come as industry professionals work to restore healthcare to its prepandemic levels. Patient experience took a hit during the COVID-19 outbreak, particularly sending "likelihood to recommend" (LTR) metrics downward.

This latest assessment is good news for an industry working to adjust to a new normal for patient care.

In 2023, the LTR score in ambulatory surgery was 85.3 out of 100, up from 84.7 in 2022 and 83.6 in 2019. Medical practices saw a similar trend. In 2023, the LTR score was 84.1. That's up from 82.2 in 2019.

In the first quarter of 2024, the LTR score in ambulatory surgery was 85.3, and in medical practices, it was 84.7.

Other care settings are also rebounding, albeit less quickly, Press Ganey added. In 2023, the LTR score in inpatient settings was 69.2, and it ticked up slightly in the first quarter of this year to 69.3. The increase shows signs of a rebound, but these figures still lag below a pre-pandemic score of 72.3 in 2019.

This was also true in the emergency department (ED), which saw an LTR score of 66.6 in 2023 and 66.8 in Q1 2024. That's still slightly short of the 2019 score of 67.5 and 2020 score of 69.1.

The slower progress on the inpatient and ED side of the care continuum makes sense, considering both care sites were hit harder by the pandemic. Because their LTR scores saw a bigger dip than in ambulatory surgery or medical practice, inpatient departments and EDs have further to go to hit prepandemic levels.

Racial disparities emerge in patient experience

Although patient experience scores are improving across the board, there are some racial health disparities present, Press Ganey reported.

Overall, there was a seven-point gap in patient experience scores from white and Asian patients. Additionally, American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) patients report lower patient experiences for most aspects of care, save for amenities and access to information. Meanwhile, Black patients are more likely to report complications with pain management during obstetrical services.

"The implication of this variation is that the 'one size fits all' approach has limited effectiveness," the Press Ganey authors wrote in the report. "Instead, interventions should be developed and targeted on specific segments with similar patterns of needs that are not reliably met."

Experience depends on generation

In addition to racial disparities in patient experience scores, the Press Ganey analysis flagged disparities based on age. Indeed, the LTR score improved across all age groups, but younger generations, like Generation Z and millennials, are more critical of their healthcare services.

While those ages 65 to 78 gave an LTR of 85.1 out of 100, millennials gave 80.3, and Gen Zers gave 77.7.

Healthcare organizations need to consider how they can provide a good healthcare experience across the spectrum of generations, Press Ganey advised. Right now, baby boomers are aging, and with that, their health needs are growing.

But younger generations have their own demands for healthcare.

"As Gen Z enters adulthood, they're also taking a more active role in their healthcare decisions," the report authors said. "And millennials are not just in charge of their own healthcare journeys: Many are now responsible for children and/or aging parents. Healthcare organizations must, therefore, consider the experience of Gen Z and millennial family members with new intensity and rigor."

Considerations for better patient experience scores

Press Ganey indicated that better patient experience scores will hinge on more tailored human experiences. This means having enough data to understand different population segments based on race, ethnicity, age and other factors.

It also means stressing collaboration among different members of the care team. Indeed, patient perceptions of teamwork helped improve LTR scores across the board. Meanwhile, facilities with higher staff engagement levels are three times more likely to have high patient experience scores, Press Ganey said.

Moving forward, healthcare organizations can leverage better patient experience data, patient perspectives and free-text comments to better understand the specific factors swaying patient experience scores within the organization. From there, seamless technologies, like digital rounding tools, can help healthcare organizations provide more human interactions that improve patient perceptions of care.

Sara Heath has covered news related to patient engagement and health equity since 2015.

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