Ways Effective HTM Drives an Optimal Patient Experience
By George Hampton
One piece of equipment can mean all the difference in the life of a patient, as we all know.
But have you ever considered that the same piece of equipment could be the difference between your hospital receiving a glowing, four-star satisfaction score or getting panned by a patient?
After all, having safe, reliable, and working medical equipment at the ready underpins nearly every patient diagnostic and treatment today. If a single required device isn’t working (or perhaps can’t even be located), at a minimum, patients might be inconvenienced with a delay in undergoing a test or undergoing a treatment—but there’s potentially a greater cost if they’ve taken a day off work or traveled a further distance to a specialty location. And since the COVID-19 pandemic has upended healthcare scheduling everywhere, a patient already could have waited weeks or months for that appointment. You can only imagine the frustration they feel when they learn that medical device isn’t available, and the scheduling cycle must begin anew.
A close review of industry research shows the heart of patient satisfaction is treating the individual with dignity. Pulling back layers of that equation, however, reveals three primary components: care delivery, treatment requests, and provider activities and behaviors. There’s a direct touchpoint for effective healthcare technology management (HTM) in at least two of those components, as our biomeds ensure medical equipment is there for care and accessible by providers to do their jobs. In some ways, HTM is the single lever where a hospital has control for consistency and reliability in driving the optimal patient experience.
Now in my fourth decade in the business, I consider myself a medical provider; I’m simply on the technical end of the care spectrum. I don’t directly touch the patient, but I’m part of the biomed network that touches the equipment that providers use to care for their patients. Having an optimized HTM program, whether managed internally or by an external partner, that delivers efficiency and effectiveness to your hospital is an often-overlooked part of the patient satisfaction equation.
Why This Matters Even More Now in HTM
For the past two years, COVID-19 has drastically impacted hospital revenues. From the onset, expenses shot up to pay for unprecedented volumes of personal protection equipment. At the same time, scheduled procedures, which provide an overwhelming proportion of hospital income, went on hiatus time and time again as the volume of pandemic patients required a greater proportion of providers’ time and hospital beds. And family after family skipped routine care as they wanted to steer clear of potentially crossing paths with anyone carrying the coronavirus.
One of the constants during this time has been the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) Survey, the national tool that captures how good—or bad—patients view their recent hospital experience. The survey, which has reported scores publicly since 2008, allows healthcare consumers to make apples-to-apples comparisons as they weigh where to go for medical treatment. There’s no one survey question that speaks directly to the condition or availability of medical equipment, but the impact of our role is infused within many of them.
Those survey results now directly influence reimbursements, with shifts that “have positioned high-quality patient care as paramount to an institution’s viability and directly shaped every healthcare administrator’s patient satisfaction strategy.” Couple that with the drastic impacts on revenues as the pandemic forced repeated pauses on scheduled procedures. In 2021 alone, hospitals are expected to lose $54 billion. What remains unchanged is the increasing role that high satisfaction scores play in gaining and maintaining a market advantage.
Against that pandemic backdrop, hospital administrators can’t expect their overtaxed providers to do even more. That’s why ensuring supporting services—with HTM playing a major role—operate at their best levels can push the needle and improve patient satisfaction.
How HTM Enhances Patient Satisfaction
What we’ve learned from years on the front line with doctors, nurses, and technicians (who operate some of the most sophisticated diagnostic equipment), is that patient satisfaction is definitely multidisciplinary. As an external supplier for many hospitals, I never look at those relationships as purely transactional. Yes, we have a specific role and supporting tasks to execute, but when you build a true partnership and nurture the chemistry between our organizations, you elevate the experience with a direct impact on better patient care. Here’s how the HTM team can help improve patient satisfaction:
Remove Roadblocks for Providers
Even before the pandemic, patient loads for doctors and nurses were increasing. The intensity of COVID care has prompted burnout and an exodus from the field. The uptick? Even higher patient-to-clinician ratios, which never bodes well for patient satisfaction.
At the most fundamental level, by working efficiently and expeditiously to have medical equipment working and ready for patient care, we eliminate wasted time as providers don’t have to track down equipment—a big complaint for nursing staff—or reschedule appointments. The simple return is that clinicians can spend more one-on-one time with patients. Going a step further, repairing equipment is our bread and butter, but the more efficiently we execute this basic responsibility, the more we help improve a provider’s day, and that upbeat energy transitions to the better interactions with patients.
Solve Problems and Never Shy from a Challenge
Clinicians excel at patient care. We’ve learned they aren’t quite as adept on the technology front, and that’s okay because we’re the equipment experts. Education is an important extension of our job, as we’ve seen what can go wrong when providers try to move a device the wrong way, don’t realize that two similar devices don’t work the same way, or think they’re helping by attempting to sanitize a piece of equipment. Cleaning with the wrong solution often leads to the degradation of that device, which means it falls out of use quicker than expected. The downstream impact is that becomes one less device available for providers and patients until we can replace it.
Technical practices in medicine are increasing at exponential rates, meaning that hospitals are becoming more dependent on costly technology to deliver today’s standards of care. Clinical engineers recognize the urgency that comes with keeping that technology functioning at top levels to ensure providers can provide the requisite care without delay.
Understand What Patients and Providers Expect and Deserve
From a personal perspective, my elderly parents are spending more time in hospitals these days for different tests or treatments. What annoys them more than anything is the lack of communication with their doctors or nurses; it seems that whenever they’re in the hospital, they’re constantly waiting for someone to walk in the door to tell them what’s going on and what’s next in their care plan. This goes back to higher patient loads—not to mention every other daily task that requires providers’ attention.
If I had my way, I’d eliminate all the burdens on providers that don’t relate directly to healthcare. We can absolutely do that with HTM, as biomeds take ownership of the core function of maintaining medical equipment.
And that extends to ancillary functions where we can put our talents to work for the good of the patient experience. Our Tech Knowledge Associates (TKA) team hasn’t been afraid to shift a little out of our lane to take on related tasks, such as fixing hospital beds and televisions—items outside of the scope of medical equipment but essential to providing a more comfortable experience for a patient already anxious about a diagnosis or being in the hospital. We know that the psyche of healthcare is as important as the physical nature of healthcare. I know that a patient can be receiving the best care they could want or wish for, but if their TV set doesn’t work for two days—something more tangible and controllable from their perspective—they might be more vocal about that than they are about a delay in wound healing.
From Safety to Satisfaction
We also conduct our own satisfaction surveys, asking each hospital partner to rate our performance. From years of experience, I know providers are very adept at pinpointing who’s causing problems and who’s not joining them in the monumental task of making people comfortable often during a rough time in their lives. They can quickly identify if supporting teams—including biomeds—aren’t living up to expected roles, which is why we proactively seek their input to ensure we’re delivering on or even exceeding operational standards. By extension, if our teams aren’t performing well on our own surveys, we can connect the dots to see how we’re potentially going to be a drag on our partners’ HCAHPS scores.
Our day-to-day operations also play an important role, as we’re tracking equipment recalls, hazards, and multiple recalls that indicate we possibly didn’t fix a piece of equipment the first time or there’s a larger issue. We’re constantly assessing our performance reports and mining the data to identify opportunities to improve or uncover trends that warrant some investigation. Of course, oversight by organizations such as The Joint Commission holds us to high standards, but we abide and live by a medical equipment management plan that connects us to the patient safety of the hospital. Those might not be directly identifiable in regard to patient satisfaction, but it’s an element on that spectrum.
Within the nearly half-century history of the HTM industry, our founding roots were to ensure that medical technology, which was just starting to be used more widely in healthcare, was safe for patients. Those were the early days of electronics, and those first-generation devices came with risks that would never be tolerated today. Manufacturers now are designing and building medical equipment with redundancy that protects patients while transforming the nature of modern care delivery.
Our biomeds continue to perform their daily responsibilities with safety first and foremost, but our responsibility has evolved to ensure that our hospital partners are delivering on missions to provide the highest-quality patient care. The proof is in the patient satisfaction scores.
George Hampton is president of Tech Knowledge Associates, a California-based Healthcare Technology Management company that partners with hospitals nationwide.