weather icon Clear

Health care takes cues from hospitality on customer service

Chris Singer approaches patients and their families sitting in a doctor’s waiting room with a smile every time.

As the OptumCare vice president of patient experience recently made his rounds at the Oakey Boulevard offices of Southwest Medical Associates, he asked visitors how he, personally, could make seeing the doctor a more pleasant experience.

“Can I ask you a quick question, an honest question?” Singer asked 34-year-old April J., who requested her last name be omitted. “When you think of Las Vegas, you think of the service experience that is hospitality. How do you think we could improve it for health care?”

She took a minute to think, then said wait times can be too long, especially when a person isn’t feeling well.

Although Singer couldn’t act on April’s suggestion that day, he offered his card. “If there is anything that you discover that you need, my cellphone number is on there,” Singer told her, before thanking her for her time.

In the Entertainment Capital of the World, medical groups are increasingly taking cues from our city’s biggest industry — hospitality — as they try to improve patient experiences. Happier patients make for loyal patients, they are finding, just as resorts use incentives to entice customers to return.

It all comes down to funding, as the government ties those experiences to reimbursement dollars based on formulas developed over the past several years by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

At Southwest Medical and DignityHealth-St. Rose Dominican Hospitals, for example, the leaders in patient experience come straight from the Strip — Singer worked with St. Rose’s Jason Grattini at The Mirage before the two moved to health care.

At UNLV, the School of Medicine is partnering with the College of Hospitality in training future doctors.

“The way people choose care is no longer based on their health plan,” Grattini said. It’s based on their recovery experience.

Instead of arbitrarily picking a doctor or hospital, patients today often consider factors including cleanliness of a facility, the technology available and the level of customer service delivered by staff, Grattini said.

“These are things that they’re starting to share on Yelp and on Facebook,” he said. “If we’re not doing things that are distinctive and remarkable to them … they’re not going to choose us.”

“What it means for the patient is now health care organizations are focusing on making sure the patients are having a better time,” said Stowe Shoemaker, dean of UNLV’s College of Hospitality.

Where numbers come from

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services introduced the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey (HCAHPS) in 2006 as a tool to measure patient perspectives of hospitals.

Six years later in 2012, the scores became instrumental in how much the government reimburses hospitals for care. The higher the score, the more the hospital gets paid.

CMS began consolidating hospital scores into a one- through five-star overall rating in 2016. All hospitals in the Las Vegas-area received one or two stars on the most recent overall assessments, which came out in December.

Ratings from patient experience surveys, which cover 11 topics and are one factor in a hospital’s overall rating, generally come in at or below national averages.

That may change post-Oct. 1, according to Chris Cochran, chairman of the health care administration department at UNLV’s School of Community Health Sciences.

When updated ratings are released in April, Cochran said he wouldn’t be surprised to see if Las Vegas-area hospitals received better scores for the care they delivered after the mass shooting on the Strip last year, which left 58 dead and hundreds wounded.

What works?

The focus on enhancing a patient’s experience beyond healing isn’t entirely new. Quint Studer, an entrepreneur and philanthropist based in Florida, is known for putting patient experience “on the map” more than two decades ago at Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago, Tierney said.

“At that point in time, health care (wasn’t) really into the concept of doing customer service,” Tierney said. “We did not think of ourselves being akin to anything in hospitality, God forbid.”

Improving communication is a large part of bettering that patient experience, experts say.

“I think in general trying to be nice to patients, that’s more of a key factor,” Cochran said.

At Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, good communication can be as basic as staff helping direct lost family and friends in the hospital’s halls, Vice President of Patient Experience Cyndi Tierney said.

It also includes listening to patients when they say they’re bored or sending a volunteer in to read with them or play card games.

“The voice of the consumer, it’s growing. It’s been growing,” Singer said. “Much of the public selects doctors … much like searching for a restaurant or hotel.”

Beyond bettering communication, health care systems are also looking to improve aesthetics for appeal and function.

Singer said that includes updating furniture and light fixtures.

At the St. Rose Dominican San Martin campus on Warm Springs Road, staff took the “Do Not Touch” signs off a baby grand piano to encourage people sitting in the lobby to share their talents.

The hospital also recently started using two glass walls originally meant to display performance metrics for sharing inspirational quotes instead.

“In an environment that’s so restrictive, to give patients the opportunity to react with their environment I think is therapeutic,” Grattini said.

About the HCAHPS Survey

The HCAHPS Survey was created in partnership with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in 2002 and implmented in October 2006. The survey, administered by mail or phone, is a standardized method for the federal government to track patient perceptions of hospitals.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which administers the survey, withholds a percentage of Medicare payments from acute-care hospitals to redistribute nationwide based on quality of care. The HCAHPS survey results account for 25 percent of the hospital’s Total Performance Score, which dictates the amount of money a hospital is reimbursed.

Hospitals rely on Medicare funding to keep their doors open, UNLV’s Chris Cochran said.

“Any loss of revenue could be significant for them,” he said.

What makes up “patient experience”

The survey consists of 27 questions, 18 on the patient’s hospital experiences. Measures that affect star ratings include:

Communication with doctors and nurses

Responsiveness of staff

Communication about medicine

Cleanliness and quietness

Care instructions after discharge

Overall hospital rating and willingness to recommend

Contact Jessie Bekker at jbekker@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563. Follow @jessiebekks on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Heavier traffic expected from EDC festival attendees
Electric Daisy Carnival attendees began to vacate the Las Vegas Motor Speedway starting before 5 a.m., the majority heading south on Interstate 15.
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DJ Steve Aoki visits Las Vegas comic book store
DJ Steve Aoki visits Torpedo Comics in Las Vegas Friday, May 17, 2019, for a signing for his new comic book series "Neon Future." (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky opens at The Venetian
After 18 years, the Smith & Wollensky location on Las Vegas’ south Strip closed in 2017, to be re-born two years later with a rib-cutting — instead of a ribbon-cutting — in The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Colin Cantwell, Creator Of Iconic Star Wars Ships Visits Vegas
Colin Cantwell, who created and designed such "Star Wars" ships as the X-Wing fighter, and Death Star, met fans at Rogue Toys in Las Vegas today. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Beauty & Essex in Las Vegas makes an EDC Wonder Wheel
In honor of the Electric Daisy Carnival, Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas makes its Wonder Wheel party-worthy. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giada talks Vegas Uncork’d
Giada De Laurentiis talks during Aperitivo Hour, a Vegas Uncork'd event, at her Caesars Palace restaurant, Pronto, May 10, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scenes from Vegas Uncork’d 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip
The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town, May 9-12. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three ingredients Gordon Ramsay can’t live without
Bon Appetit's Andy Baraghani interviews the "Hell's Kitchen" chef during a Vegas Uncork'd event at Caesars Palace, May 11, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Uncork’d launches wiith bubbles and a blade
Dozens of chefs representing some of the Strip’s top restaurants gathered Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to launch the 2019 edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bunky the Clown at the clown convention
Bob "Bunky the Clown" Gretton talks about his life as a clown and the Clown Convention which was in Las Vegas at Texas Station this week. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Frying soft-shell crab at Lola’s in Las Vegas
At Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Las Vegas, soft-shell crab is breaded and fried and served either as an appetizer, po’boy or platter. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
The Stove in Henderson makes Pecan Pie Pancakes
At The Stove in Henderson, chef/partner Antonio Nunez stacks buttermilk pancakes with pecans and dulce de leche and tops them pie crust crumbs. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vinnie Paul remembered at Count's Vamp'd
The late rocker's favorite table at one of his favorite clubs in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
4DX movie experience at Red Rock
4DX movie experience during a demo reel at Red Rock. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What To Do On May The 4th
There are plenty of events going on May the 4th this year around Las Vegas. Celebrate Star Wars and Comic Book Day all at once. The Rogue Toys, the 501st, Rebel Legion and Millennium Fandom Bar are all hosting fun events to help celebrate your geek-dom. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Water Sports Introduces New Attraction At Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas Water Sports will debut its new aqua park attraction at Lake Las Vegas Days this weekend. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Making the Space Invader at Greene St. Kitchen in Las Vegas
Lysa Huerta, pastry cook at Greene St. Kitchen at the Palms in Las Vegas, starts with angel food cake, Fruity Pebbles ice cream and strawberry sorbet to create a space creature engulfed in flashing lights and swirling mists. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Pools
The M, Park MGM and NoMad are just a few great pools in Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jose Andres explains Iberico pork
(Al Mancini/Las Vega Review-Journal)
Inside Life is Beautiful
Craig Asher Nyman explains how Life is Beautiful festival is booked and talks about this year's line-up. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America Pops Up In Vegas
Tattoo'd America, a new pop-up attraction on the Linq Promenade, had their grand opening Friday. The attraction is dedicate to the culture of tattoos. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jose Andres gets key to the Strip
Chef Jose Andres was presented with a Key to the Las Vegas Strip and a proclamation declaring April 26 Jose Andres Day in Clark County by County Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Friday. The ceremony took place at his restaurant Bazaar Meat in the SLS Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sadelle’s in Las Vegas makes a grilled cheese with an inverted bagel
Michael Vargas, executive sous chef at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas, inverts an everything bagel and grills it with Swiss, cheddar and Muenster cheeses to make the Inverted Bagel Grilled Cheese. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures
Kassandra Lopez at Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prime rib is carved tableside at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Las Vegas
Dave Simmons, executive chef of Lawry’s The Prime in Las Vegas, which plans special cuts for National Prime Rib Day, demonstrates the restaurant’s service from rolling tableside carving carts. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)