The patient experience is no longer just about how a procedure went or how a doctor explained the diagnosis; it is about creating an experience from entry to exit that would make that patient choose your hospital again. During a patient’s hospital stay they can receive care or assistance from more than 10 departments in one day. The patient’s perspective is to not evaluate each department individually, but rather as one comprehensive experience. How patients perceive their experience has a direct effect on a hospitals ability to remain competitive in the marketplace.
Eighty-four percent of health leaders rank patient experience among their top three priorities; yet more than 58 percent have not made specific patient experience investments.1 One cost effective solution to improving the patient experience is a hospital’s careful selection of patient apparel and employee uniforms. Image plays an important role in most if not all industries, so why would the healthcare industry be any different? Laundries would best support their hospital customers by emphasizing the relationship between the patient experience and their apparel. By doing so, a hospital gains the long-term benefits of an image upgrade and enhanced brand recognition.
Patient Apparel – Fit and Quality
Hospitals can be an extremely stressful environment for patients; they are out of their natural surroundings waiting for news of their diagnosis or impending procedure. The last thing a hospital would want for one of their patients is to feel further discomfort due to their patient apparel. In a 2009 study on potential designs for a new patient gown, physicians, nurses and other hospital caregivers surveyed were asked if they thought the gown affected the patient's emotional well-being. Of those surveyed, 69 percent said "sometimes" and 19 percent said "always."2 The fit and quality of patient apparel are two key touch points laundries should address with their hospital customers.
- Fit: Hospital patients come in various sizes, from short to tall and skinny to wide. Offering all patients a standard gown in small, medium or large no longer suffices. Two specific patient groups that can be directly affected by the lack of patient apparel options are children and overweight patients.
According to the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP ), there were 6.4 million hospital stays for children 17 years and younger in 2009—nearly 17 percent of all hospital stays.3 Though the percentage of pediatric patients is lower than those who are adults, their experience should be just as important. When hospitals are purchasing pediatric patient apparel for children, laundries should discuss size and pattern options. Most hospitals offer varying patient apparel sizes to accommodate the widespread size range of today’s pediatric patients. Unfortunately the standard sizing used in the pediatric arena doesn’t always fit the older children or teens experiencing their growth spurt. Rather than squeezing an adolescent into a pediatric gown or draping them in an adult patient gown, hospitals should purchase teen-sized gowns for maximum comfort and coverage. Hospitals should also consider incorporating pediatric patient apparel with fun, cartoonish prints. The exciting visuals would help distract a child and put their mind at ease thus making their hospital experience more comfortable. This simple concept will increase their ability to cope and communicate, which is imperative in the medical setting.
A 2012 report released by healthcare supply chain company Novation revealed more than a third of U.S hospitals invested in physical renovations to better serve obese patients from 2011 to 2012. Over that time, some hospitals spent as much as $5 million in updates.4 As hospitals make these updates for improved comfort, they should also purchase plus-size patient gowns to further enhance the patient experience. With the standard sized hospital gowns, they fail to properly cover overweight or obese patients and patient modesty becomes a big factor. Most plus-size patient gowns have eliminated the tie at the waist and incorporated full overlap ties at the neck. This allows the gown to hang properly on different sized patients while ensuring patient modesty. By carrying patient apparel sizes up to ten extra-large, a hospital is ensuring that a patient isn’t being singled-out due to their size. This simple modesty enhancement will directly impact a patient’s overall experience by retaining their privacy and guaranteeing comfort.
- Quality: Patient apparel should be comfortable, durable and non-transparent, three quality advantages a reusable patient gown has over a disposable patient gown.
A reusable patient gown offers a softer touch and better modesty than compared to the materials used in disposable patient gown, which have a tendency to be uncomfortable and somewhat transparent. A reusable patient gown is also more stable, whereas disposable patient gown is more susceptible to tearing or snagging. Reusable textiles are also more patient friendly and less intimidating, thus improving on patient experience.
The patient experience starts from the moment a patient walks in the door. Before they even receive treatment, their first experience is visual. The last thing you want is for a patient to struggle with identifying a staff member within any specific healthcare facility or environment. Employee identification is a crucial aspect of the patient experience. A patient should be able to not only identify hospital employees, but specifically those that would best assist them, whether it is a dietary staff member, pediatric nurse or someone from patient transport coming to escort them to x-ray for tests.
Beyond being more visually appealing to customers, a branded uniform program is a form of nonverbal communication that offers patients a better sense of security and comfort when they are able to identify which employees belong in their room. Research shows that 97 percent of the public believes uniforms make employees easier to recognize.5 Hospitals should utilize a branded uniform for both non-clinical and clinical departments in order to assist with proper employee identification.
There are numerous non-clinical departments within a hospital, from administration, food service, patient transportation, environmental services, security, etc. As these non-clinical employees interact with patients just as much as the clinical employees, they should be outfitted in a branded uniform program in order for the patients to identify if the person coming into their room is an employee or trespasser. A branded uniform program not only assists with employee identification, but it also elevates the patient experience as 70 percent of customers feel employees in uniforms look neater and more professional.6 For example, a hospital could have the dietary employees that deliver a patients food wear a logo’d button-up, collared dress shirt, tie, dress pants and walking apron. This would allow the patient to identify the employee and at the same time make them feel like they’re at a restaurant rather than a hospital.
Outfitting your clinical staff in a branded uniform should be a requirement in the hospital setting as patients and employees should be able to identify those that are medically trained. To further enhance the patient experience, a hospital may also color-code employee uniforms based on their department or role. This will allow a patient to differentiate between other clinical employees just passing through and those that belong to the department they’re assigned to. The differential branding by department also makes it more challenging for trespassers to falsely impersonate a member of the staff. Additionally, a branded uniform program provides hospitals with a more professional image that will enhance their brand.
HCAHPS Survey - Will Your Hospital Pass the Test?
Improving the patient experience used to be a strategic plan discretionary to each hospital, but now cultivating the ultimate patient experience is a necessity for incentive payments. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-148) includes the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey among the measures used to calculate value-based incentive payments in the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing program
The HCAHPS survey, also known as the CAHPS Hospital Survey, is a survey instrument and data collection methodology for measuring patients' perceptions of their hospital experience. The HCAHPS survey asks discharged patients 27 questions about their recent hospital stay, including 18 core questions about aspects of patients' hospital experiences such as responsiveness, cleanliness and communication.
A cost effective way to improve communication during the patient experience would be the utilization of a branded uniform program. A weak uniform program projects diminished communication, creating a sense of confusion and frustration for patients and their families. As a result, this could potentially lower patient satisfaction scores. A recent article in Modern Healthcare Jan. 7, 2013 suggested increasing communication is much more cost-effective than a renovation in terms of increasing patient satisfaction scores; a facility’s dollar goes further with an investment in communication compared to a structural change.
Improving the Patient Experience Beyond Diagnosis
Hospitals must recognize that in order to succeed within the marketplace, they must take action to improve their patient experience. How a procedure or diagnosis is handled will always be the top priority, but patients don’t always focus on the clinical factors when evaluating their experience. A patient will be appreciative that you removed their appendix smoothly, but they will likely still comment on their uncomfortable patient apparel and/or the facilities maintenance employee that they thought was a trespasser in their room. By carefully selecting patient apparel for comfort and employee apparel for an enhanced image and identification, a hospital will deliver a superior patient experience with which other hospitals can’t compete.
Scott Delin, Sr. National Healthcare Market Executive
Contact him at 610-442-0880 or [email protected]
Learn more about the patient experience by visiting our blog An Apple A Day - blog.FashionSealHealthcare.com.
1. Zeis, M. (August 2012) Patient Experience and HCAHPS: Little Consensus on a Top Priority. HealthLeaders Media Intelligence.
2. Brown, M.H. (2009, July 31) That Skimpy Hospital Gown Patients Hate: Project Seeks to Find an Alternative. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Retrieved from www.rwjf.org
3. Clark, C. (2011, August 15) Top 10 Reasons for Pediatric Hospitalizations. HeathLeaders Media
4. Novation LLC (2012, December) 2012 Bariatric Report. Retrieved from www.usatoday.com Hospitals Super-sizing Equipment for Obese Patients
5. Weintraub Associates, an independent management consulting firm (2008)
6. Weintraub Associates, an independent management consulting firm (2008)