October 30, 2008

Patients in U.S. hospitals report low satisfaction

The quality of hospitals across United States seems to be inconsistent, as per a new study by the researchers of Harvard School of Public Health.

The study published in The New England Journal of Medicine revealed that although the patients are generally satisfied with their care during hospital stay, there is an ample scope for substantial improvement especially in the areas including pain management and discharge instructions.

The data was collected by the federal government in an ongoing survey of patients at all hospitals that get Medicare payments and covered areas such as pain management, discharge information, communication with the hospital staff including doctors, nurses about medications as well as quality of nursing services.

The lead author and assistant professor of health policy at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Dr. Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH, shared his viewpoint, “These data really represent a sea change for the health care system. Patient-centered care is at the heart of a high-performing system and until now, we have lacked information on how patients feel about their care. With this information now freely available, providers and policymakers can begin to focus on improving patients' experiences in the hospital.”

Nearly one-third of patients gave poor ratings to pain control and management, and one-fifth gave low ratings to communication during the hospital stay. "Given that we spend more than $2 trillion annually for health care in our country, we should expect that the basics are addressed, like always treating pain adequately," added Jha.

“We've been talking about (health care) quality for 20 years, but patients' experiences have not been part of the discussion,” said Dr. Ashish Jha. He further added “Until now, we have had no high-quality information about how patients perceive the care they receive.”

The results showed that nearly 67 percent of patients were satisfied during their hospital stay, especially with the hospitals having a higher ratio of nurses to patients. The first ever national survey stressed the important role of nurses in assuring high level of patient care and satisfaction.

With this first ever report of patients’ experiences going public, people can look forward to much desired improvements in patient-centered care. “As medicine becomes increasingly high-tech, sometimes the basic needs of patients have gotten lost. Our hope is that by systematically measuring and publicly reporting on how patients experience their care, hospitals will be inspired to better meet the needs of their patients,” Opined Jha.

While admitting the need for a significant improvement in hospital quality, Jim Conway, senior vice president at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement also stressed the important role of patients in improving the care during their hospital stay. “If a patient is satisfied with their care, there is a very strong likelihood that the patient is going to be actively managing their care,” said Conway.

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