By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Overnight stays in a hospital are almost never a reason to celebrate, but patients say that Hilo Medical Center is succeeding in its ongoing mission to improve the experience for them.
New data posted on the website www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov show that HMC is forging ahead in its efforts to make its patients feel more comfortable, showing mostly significant increases for 2011 in all but one of 10 categories measuring patient satisfaction over the previous year. The percentage scores were compiled from a random sampling of 10 questions asked of patients who stayed in the hospital for at least one night in 2011.
As a result of HMC’s gains, the hospital was recognized earlier this month by health care performance improvement firm Press Ganey Associates Inc. as one of 18 facilities in the country named a 2012 Top Improver. The award honors hospitals that have shown continuous improvement over the previous two years. HMC was selected out of a pool of more than 10,000 health care facilities partnered with Press Ganey, the organization said in a release on its website.
“We are proud to partner with Hilo Medical Center,” said Patrick T. Ryan, CEO of Press Ganey. “HMC’s dedication to continuous improvement of patient satisfaction reflects the organization’s commitment to delivering outstanding service and quality. HMC’s efforts benefit patients and advance the quality of health care in East Hawaii.”
Hospital CEO Howard Ainsley credited the facility’s staff with putting forth the effort to make Hilo Medical Center a more welcoming environment for East Hawaii residents.
“This award represents tremendous recognition of HMC’s efforts,” he said. “The entire staff at HMC has worked very hard for this recognition. More importantly, HMC’s staff has made a real difference in the quality of each patient’s stay in our community hospital.”
Despite the medical center’s gains, Ainsley acknowledged there is still much work to be done. Most of its patient satisfaction scores continue to lag behind state and national averages.
“It shows absolutely that we are going in the right direction,” he said. “We knew with some of these efforts we’re undergoing, it was critically important that we improve. We want that people can recommend this hospital, and we’re seeing those numbers improve. And that’s important, because our reimbursements in the future are going to be tied to that.
“We’re mindful of what we need to do,” he added. “We’re just chipping away. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re getting there.”
Regional Chief Nurse Dan Brinkman added that, when measured against similarly sized and situated hospitals around the country, Hilo Medical Center ranks highly.
“I think we can be in the top 10 percent in the country in the coming years,” he said. “But it’s going to take time.”
HMC made its biggest gains last year in the areas of public perception. Among the respondents to the patient survey, 53 percent gave Hilo Medical Center a rating of nine on a scale of zero to 10. That compares to 43 percent of respondents doing the same in 2010, and 46 percent a year earlier. Meanwhile, 54 percent said they would “definitely recommend” the hospital, compared with 46 percent in 2010 and 45 percent in 2009.
The hospital also impressed its patients in 2011 with the cleanliness of its rooms and bathrooms, with 73 percent saying they were “always” clean. Only 65 percent of respondents said the same thing in 2010.
Other areas that have shown consistent progress include doctors and nurses communicating with patients, and pain being well controlled.
One area that hasn’t improved as quickly as others has been patients experiencing noisy environments in their rooms. In 2009, only 41 percent of respondents said the area around their room was “always” quiet at night. Since then, that number has dropped, to 38 percent in 2010, and 39 percent last year. The state average on that question was at 53 percent last year, and the national average was at 59 percent.
Brinkman says that the noise issue is one of which he and his colleagues are well aware, but it’s a problem that largely can’t be fixed without an infusion of money. Luckily, he said, the governor’s recently announced release of $3.7 million for Hilo Medical Center includes money to address noisy rooms.
“This building was built to withstand an 8.5 earthquake. It’s made out of very thick concrete. As a result, it’s built like a fortress, and there’s not a lot of sound dampening. Sound just bounces off the walls,” he said.
The hospital is looking at using an electronic noise canceling system similar to one used in noise-canceling headphones, he said. Computer-controlled speakers would generate low-level “anti-noise” that can help to cancel out noises that bother patients, he explained.
Ultimately, however, without investing in expanding the building to offer more private rooms and fewer semi-private rooms, noise will always be a complaint from patients, he said. Most modern facilities are moving in the same direction as they place more focus on patient comfort and customer service.
For more information visit hospitalcompare.hhs.gov.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.