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Voices on Hospitals: Access and Patient Satisfaction

Finding Your VoiceBefore I continue my discussion on employer perceptions of Iowa hospitals, I would like to react to a Commonwealth Fund report “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, 2014 Update: How the U.S. Health Care System Compares Internationally” published on June 16th.

It is a fact that we pay for world-class healthcare in the U.S. No one can honestly dispute this. Yet, there’s a major gap in what we pay for healthcare versus the outcomes we receive — commonly known as ‘value.’ 

When we compare our expensive healthcare system to 10 other major industrialized countries, as the Commonwealth Fund recently did, the U.S. ranks dead last in the quality of its healthcare system. As we already know, we spend far more than any other country on healthcare (per capita), and yet the Commonwealth Fund reports “…further findings indicate that from the patients’ perspective, and based on outcome indicators, the performance of American health care is severely lacking.” In fairness to U.S. healthcare providers, this report factors in other criteria that does not directly relate to provider performance here in the U.S., such as our troublesome access to insurance coverage and equity issues.

This report is like fingernails on a chalkboard — for one key reason. In Iowa, we continue to compare our health outcomes ‘progress’ to other states, rather than with our international counterparts. I understand it is more convenient to compare Iowa metrics with comparable metrics from other states, after all, each state operates under the same federal healthcare ‘system’. But let’s be honest, it is very easy to be selective on which metrics to use when comparing the progress of our outcomes with other states. Aren’t we merely comparing Iowa to other under-achieving benchmarks?

It’s really about our expectations, right?

Since we are paying world-class prices for our healthcare, then we need to proactively compare our outcomes to…well, the world. Incrementally making progress comparisons to other states only serves to prolong our inevitable desire to produce world-class outcomes. With the risk of sounding naïve about this subject, I am convinced Iowa can and should take the lead by being the petri-dish for world-class care. But to do so, we must ‘think’ world-class and, consequently, use the appropriate benchmarks to get us there.

There, I said it. Now, shoot me.

As previously mentioned, future blogs will address how Iowa employers view hospitals on 12 different ‘indicators’ across five Iowa regions. Today’s topic addresses employer perceptions on hospitals regarding “Access to Services” and hospitals’ “Concern for Patient Satisfaction.”

Employer perceptions about our hospitals can be interpreted as unique perspectives coming from key stakeholders who have much to gain (or lose) from the local care that is provided to their workforce.

The five arbitrarily-carved regions in Iowa consist of the following number of counties (99 total counties):

  • Central – 9 counties
  • Northwest – 27 counties
  • Northeast – 25 counties
  • Southwest – 17 counties
  • Southeast – 21 counties

Indicator #1: Access to Hospital Services
Using a 10-point scale, (1 is ‘failing’ and 10 is ‘excellent’), Iowa employers rated statewide hospitals a 7.3 regarding having access to their services. When converting this score to a grade, the overall statewide grade for this indicator is a ‘B.’ (See NOTE below.)

The following map shows little measurable difference between the five regions for this indicator. The northwest region has the highest average of 6.9, while central Iowa follows at 6.6. When applying weights to the regions, many regions actually grade at a mid-to-high ‘C.’ If you have not reviewed our ‘Voices for Value’ white paper, it is available for download. ‘Voices’ briefly addresses this particular subject on pages 14 & 15.

Regional - Access to Services Map-Master

Indicator #2: Concern for Patient Satisfaction
Overall, employers give statewide hospitals a score of 6.9, or ‘C+.’ However, when we look at the five regions under this indicator, it becomes more interesting. Employers in the northwest region clearly feel their hospitals have more empathy for patient satisfaction, grading hospitals at a low ‘B.’ The northeast and central regions grade their hospitals at a low ‘C,’ while both the southeast and southwest lag behind equally at high ‘Ds.’ Our ‘Voices’ white paper discusses this topic on pages 15 & 16.

Regional - Concern for Patient Satisfaction by County Map-Master

Former Massachusetts Congressman Tip O’Neill frequently stated “All politics is local.” As you will see in upcoming blogs, employer perceptions on Iowa hospitals vary greatly based on location. So we might say that “All healthcare is local.”

Local problems can be addressed with local solutions, to a great extent, but only if we have appropriate expectations of the desired outcomes we wish to seek.

Next week:  “Electronic Health Records” and “Consistent Quality of Care.”

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NOTE:  When grading the entire state, it is important to distinguish that employer respondents were not weighted, which means all employers (regardless of size) have an equal voice. However, when we break out the five Iowa regions, the results are size-weighted so that organizations with more employees have a louder “voice.” Because each region is size-weighted, the average regional scores will appear lower than the statewide average score, in this case, 7.3. Sorry to get technical, but I wanted to address why the statewide averages do not exactly jive with regional averages. If we dig deeper by county, the map becomes very colorful because not all counties are alike, since not all hospitals are alike.