Does your hospital have a halo?
Obviously, the health care providers in your facility do great work every day. You might even argue that miracles are a common occurrence. But when we talk about halos in health care, we aren’t talking about health care in a spiritual sense. When we refer to a halo, we’re talking about the overall impression that patients and their families have of your hospital, and how it can influence your patient satisfaction scores. Because as it turns out, your HCAHPS scores aren’t always based entirely on the actual patient experience.
Understanding the Halo Effect
In 1920, psychologist Edward Thorndike coined the term halo effect to refer to the cognitive bias that influences our impressions of others. According to Thorndike, the overall impression that we have of someone influences the assessment of their character. When someone rates another person highly in one trait, for example, leadership, they are more likely to carry those positive impressions over to other traits, and consider that person more intelligent and dependable as well. We see the halo effect often in our ratings of celebrities: Because celebrities are often attractive and successful, we are more likely to evaluate them with other positive associations as well, such as being kind or intelligent, despite not having any evidence to support that impression.
The halo effect does not only apply to individuals, though. When asked to rate businesses or services — including healthcare — people who have a positive experience in one or more areas are more likely to rate the entire experience as being a good one. What constitutes a positive experience depends on the individual; for example, someone who values tidiness might be upset that their room is not cleaned and straightened up often enough, and thus rate the entire experience more negatively because their experience in one area clouded the entire stay.
The Halo Effect and Satisfaction Surveys
Often, hospital administrators approach patient satisfaction surveys and scores literally. That is, they look at the areas where they are perhaps not up to snuff and focus on improving those specific aspects of the patient experience. While that’s undoubtedly important, by improving the overall experience that patients have with your hospital you can also see an uptick in your overall satisfaction scores. In other words, patients who have a generally extraordinary experience with you are going to rate you higher on the HCAHPS even if every aspect of the experience wasn’t perfect, then a patient who had a less than ideal experience. If the room wasn’t cleaned enough and the food was subpar then those experiences will influence their responses on questions relating to other areas, which may have been excellent.
So how do you “polish your halo,” so to speak? By focusing on the entire patient experience, and identifying the factors that most strongly influence how patients respond to patient satisfaction survey questions, and developing plans to improve in those specific areas. Healthcare administrators are well served to follow the lead of facilities like the Cleveland Clinic, which went so far as to develop an entire department devoted to patient experience and operates under the notion that patients view service as synonymous with quality in healthcare.
More specifically, this might include: