We hear many stories today about disparities in healthcare. Many of those discussions have to do with access to care with a focus on insurance. In public health circles, disparities have been studied and reported for decades, shedding light on the plight of our most vulnerable populations. It’s no secret that people of low socio-economic status are at greater risk of unmet medical needs and ultimately more chronic and costly conditions.
What does disparity have to do with the patient experience? More than you might think. Many healthcare leaders proudly proclaim, “We treat all our patients the same regardless of their payment source.” While that is a noble statement, I challenge you, the patient experience leaders, to drill down into that claim within your own organizations.
If someone runs out of money, does that speed up the discharge? Does it impact the services offered? If a wealthy self-pay individual says they want to remain in the hospital a few extra days, is that granted? Would it be granted to the Medicaid patient asking for the same or are they tossed like a hot potato to the first available nursing home bed regardless of the home’s quality rating?
The Beryl Institute defines the patient experience as, “The sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care.” If that is the definition your organization adopts, then take an honest look at all interactions, the organization’s culture, and the continuum of care.
Interactions often begin with scheduling appointments. Are your medical practices accepting Medicare and Medicaid? Are those patients waiting longer for their appointments than the commercially insured?
Continuum of care includes discharge planning and the transition of care. Does that transition strive to uphold the same level of quality you deliver within the four walls of the hospital?
It’s time for patient experience professionals to look carefully at disparities that might exist. Before you start patting yourself on the back for your great, comprehensive patient experience; take a look at the full continuum and identify the disparities. I find that all too often, the left hand doesn’t really know what the right hand is doing.