Bangor-area hospital patients among happiest in nation

By Jackie Farwell, BDN Staff
Posted Nov. 23, 2011, at 3:45 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — According to the most recent Medicare survey results, patients in the Bangor area are among the most satisfied in the nation with their hospital stays. Such surveys are increasingly important as federal Medicare funds will be tied to patient satisfaction.

Out of 295 hospital markets, Bangor placed No. 10 in the rankings, which covered survey responses from 2010. The surveys query Medicare patients about how well doctors and nurses communicated with them, managed their pain and explained their treatment, as well as about the cleanliness and noise level of their rooms.

“‘What do I want for my mother?’ is probably pretty close to what the survey is trying to get at,” said Erik Steele, chief medical officer at Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems.

The Bangor area, which the survey defines as a wide swath of 18 hospitals throughout northern and eastern Maine, earned a total score of 75.45 out of 100. First-ranked Mason City, Iowa, had a score of 77.6, while last-place Manhattan, N.Y., totaled a dismal 58.84. The Portland area ranked 94th in the survey with a score of 71.6.

Hospitals are paying closer attention than ever to the rankings in light of Medicare’s decision to factor the surveys into reimbursement rates. As a result of changes ushered in through the Affordable Care Act, Medicare next fall will begin rewarding some hospitals with high patient satisfaction, while those with disgruntled patients will see revenues withheld.

“It’s not just warm and fuzzies anyore,” said Becky Schnur, director of communications for the Maine Hospital Association.

Maine hospitals have long tracked patient satisfaction indicators, and witnessed the positive effect good care has on health outcomes, she said.

“I think the fact that you’re seeing the Bangor area as 10th in the nation is a testament to the work hospitals have been doing in the past decade on patient satisfaction,” Schnur said.

But never before have patients’ opinions been so directly tied to funding.

“In the last couple of years, they’ve been progressively working toward a system in which if you’re not doing well in terms of patient satisfaction, they’re going to start punishing you financially,” Steele said.

Medicare also will consider quality standards for medical care in calculating reimbursements.

Already intense competition among hospitals for dwindling federal dollars will kick into even higher gear following a bipartisan congressional committee’s failure earlier this week to cut $1.2 trillion from the deficit, triggering an automatic 2 percent annual cut to Medicare providers. In such a climate, tension has arisen in the medical community over seeing reimbursements tied to such subjective patient assessments, Steele said.

“We’ve all struggled with it, whether it’s Medicare using it to make decisions about reimbursements or employers and insurance companies using it to rank hospitals and physicians,” he said.

But most have acclimated, recognizing that improvements in patient experience were necessary and managing to avoid knee-jerk reactions to the “survey of the day,” Steele said.

At Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth, which the survey considers part of the Bangor area, the focus on patient satisfaction has shaped the way hospital staff view communication, said CEO Charlie Therrien.

“It’s become much more patient-centric as opposed to hospital-centric,” he said.

Everyone from nurses to housekeeping and food service staff are involved improving patients’ experience, Therrien said.

First implemented in 2006, the Medicare patient satisfaction surveys consist of 27 questions sent to a random sample of adult patients following their discharge from a hospital. Results for individual hospitals can be found at DHHS’s Hospital Compare website.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/11/23/health/bangor-area-patients-among-happiest-in-nation/ printed on August 20, 2014