Improving HCAHPS Scores: Proven Strategies to Advance Patient Satisfaction in Hospitals


Patient feedback is crucial when determining what is working—and what isn’t—in acute care settings. While the term “patient-centered care” was just an emerging buzzword only a few decades ago, hospitals today are constantly striving to ensure the patient experience is exceptional.

Pulling patient feedback in an objective way is especially important to decision-makers throughout acute care facilities. Thanks to the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, or the HCAHPS, hospital executives have the chance to review patient feedback with minimal lag time and make decisions more efficiently.

The HCAHPS is designed to give patient feedback on a variety of topics important to them, such as quality of care and time spent waiting. Scores are instrumental in causing change throughout health systems across the country. HCAHPS scores are also accessible to the public, and financial support can vary based on results, which means a hospital without a patient-centered culture impact the bottom line.

HCAHPS Scores and Improved Patient Experience

The HCAHPS focuses on how the patient felt about their experience and includes important topics such as pain management and wait time. A large majority of the survey questions are based on communication, both how the staff communicated with one another and how the staff communicated with the patient in a way they could understand. Survey questions about communication-related issues are throughout the assessment, with the HCAHPS Fact Sheet noting that out of the seven composite scores, at least four are communication-related: how well nurses and doctors communicate with patients, how well the staff communicates about new medicines, discharge communication, and how well patients understand follow up care instructions. Other composite scores, based on how responsive staff is to patient needs and pain management, are also rooted in good communication techniques.

According to the United States Census Bureau, about one in five Americans speak a language besides English at home. When in crisis or in pain, these patients are more likely to have difficulties understanding complex instructions from medical professionals, as well as communicating an accurate description of their chief complaints. Without the right tools in place, and without the staff knowing about these tools, not only can HCAHPS scores fall due to poor communication, but patient care can greatly suffer as well.

Becoming a Language-Inclusive Organization

For hospital executives and decision-makers, it can seem overwhelming to implement policies that support patients who speak a language besides English. After all, most care staff likely speak English fluently and use English to communicate with one another. Even if there are bilingual staff members, there may not be someone available at all times who can speak to the wide variety of patients who come into their acute care settings.

Fortunately, you have the chance to markedly improve HCAHPS scores for communication. While it will take effort, new systems, and staff education, giving a patient-centered experience to every person who arrives to receive care is an attainable goal for every organization. The first step is to declare your management’s commitment to language access for every patient, and then work with companies, such as InDemand Interpreting, that will support your commitment without busting your budget.

Strategies for Language Inclusivity

Patient-centered care is based on the individual patient, making sweeping changes or policies less effective. However, making communication more effective between caregiver and patient can be relatively easy with the right support and direction.

Begin with an organizational commitment to language access for everyone. No matter if you are in a large, diverse city or a small, rural village, your organization should have the tools that will allow you to offer quality care to every patient who arrives for care and doesn’t speak English as a first language.

Medical terminology and complex care instructions, including guidance on medication, are not easily translated from one language to the next. Refrain from using interpreters who do not have extensive medical experience. Instead, choose to work with certified medical interpreters who can use their language skills not only in relationship-building conversation but also in relaying crucial medical information. Choosing interpreters who are certified through the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters or the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters can give you confidence that you are working with a well-rounded and specially trained individual.

However, having a variety of medical interpreters may not always be an option for your organization. Patients can suffer when interpreters are not readily available, whether due to location or specific language proficiency. Consider leveraging technology, such as video remote interpreting, to ensure qualified medical interpreters are only one touch away. This proactive step is a patient-centered decision that will potentially increase your HCAHPS score, as well as your patient care.

Next Steps

Patient-centered care can be effective only if medical facilities take preferred language into account. If you are ready to learn more about how technology can increase communication, and your HCAHPS score, access InDemand Interpreting’s free on-demand webinar: HCAHPS and Novel Ways of Leveraging Technology to Improve Scores. Discover more about how language inclusivity solidifies your organizational commitment to patient-centered care and gives you concrete ways to make it come alive with your team.

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