Getting the Word Out

Added on Oct 31, 2014

Ever since Press Ganey Chief Medical Officer Dr. Thomas Lee called out “suffering” as “The Word That Shall Not Be Spoken,” his colleagues can’t stop talking about it. And neither can the health care industry. 

Dr. Lee was responding to Press Ganey’s unique improvement model, which breaks down suffering into meaningful categories that reflect the experience of patients in order to identify opportunities to reduce or eliminate it wherever possible.

Maybe there’s something liberating about openly acknowledging what was never truly a secret to begin with—the fact that patients suffer. It’s more likely, however, that the rising din of the suffering discourse can be attributed to Dr. Lee’s insistence that we not accept all suffering as an immovable partner of illness or byproduct of treatment. Rather, he says, we must consider it to be an addressable indicator of vulnerabilities in the care delivery process.

This perspective is the underlying force driving a new construct that provides insight into patient suffering by measuring the unmet needs that contribute to it. The construct, which is described in detail in the latest Press Ganey Performance Insights report “Measuring Patient Needs to Reduce Suffering,” converts CAHPS and Press Ganey measures to a single, standardized scale. With the tool, providers are able to capture and measure the degree to which patient needs are being met across their entire care experience.

While current measures of patient experience don’t ask patients to report their level of suffering, “they do allow us to understand the extent to which a patient views elements of their care as optimal or not,” Deirdre Mylod, PhD, senior vice president of Research & Analytics at Press Ganey, wrote in the upcoming issue of Partnersmagazine. “When a patient reports an optimal element of care, no additional opportunity to address their suffering is identified. However, when patients report sub-optimal care, they are pointing to opportunities for reducing their suffering.”

Using relative weight analysis based on a national study of patient-level data, Mylod explained, “we can determine which questions are more strongly associated with patients’ overall perception of care, and then weight those items accordingly when forming composite measures reflecting a particular need.”

By organizing these measures into themes based on the four components of Compassionate Connected Care (Clinical Excellence, Operational Efficiency, Care Behaviors and Culture), said Mylod, “we can further refine the measurement of patients’ unmet needs, and by so doing highlight the types of action that must be taken in order to better meet those needs and reduce suffering.” Importantly, she added, “with this new model, we can segment patient populations down to those with similar care needs to better understand and address care gaps unique to their condition.”

By capturing the voice of every patient and interpreting feedback through this construct, “health care organizations can measure what matters to their patients and systematically improve performance,” according to Dr. Lee, who along with his colleagues will discuss the need to address suffering and the value of this new construct in doing so during the 2014 Press Ganey National Client Conference.

Now that the word is out, it’s time for the health care industry to embrace the reduction of suffering as a strategic priority.