The truth is, there is no perfectly objective method to determine the “best hospital.”
But, there’s no denying that the highest ranked hospitals have a few qualities in common: innovation, patient care, and communication above everything else.
But how do they do it? How can we apply those lessons to hospitals around the world?
Unsurprisingly, innovation and a willingness to adopt new technology rank high on the list.
It isn’t always about money, either. It’s about the hospitals that aren’t afraid to shake up existing processes, to educate the staff and deploy new tools to the best possible use.
Adopting Agile Hardware
Health professionals and clinicians everywhere are on their feet for days at a time, racing from room to room. As computer systems and EHR invade every inch of medical life, there simply isn’t always time to sit at a desktop computer.
Some hospitals have embraced mobile technology like medical tablets. Modern medical tablets are small, portable, and some come with hot-swappable batteries — meaning they can be in constant operation without having to sit and charge for a portion of the day. They also can be equipped with built-in barcode, RFID, and smart card scanners, removing a lot of the peripherals clogging up computer carts.
One of the keys of innovation is vision — as hockey legend Wayne Gretzky put it, “don’t look where the puck is. Look where the puck is going.” When it comes to data protection sharing, the proverbial puck is heading toward distributed ledgers like blockchain.
In short, blockchain democratizes information, protecting it by sharing an encrypted version of a particular file or database across hundreds or thousands of other computers on the chain. For healthcare applications, the security and accountability of blockchain make it difficult for hackers to penetrate, or for unintentional leaks to occur.
Blockchain also has fantastic applicability in drug tracking, which is required by law after the “Drug Supply Chain Security” act of 2013. And since every transaction in the shared database is constantly checked against the same copy stored on multiple servers, illegally altering the drug inventory for nefarious purposes is basically impossible.
Hospitals and healthcare are heavily burdened by the twin chains of high stakes and the ensuing regulation that comes with such an important responsibility.
But, like all complex endeavors, communication is key. And not just communication between management and staff, or staff and patients — though that’s important too — but also among the hardware and software that has become ubiquitous in medical practices.
EHR Software Blues
EHR systems don’t always play nice with others, with many software companies making it actively difficult to communicate with competitor software. This is why top hospitals, and those striving to avoid these pitfalls, embrace emergent technology.
The way forward isn’t exactly clear: even Trinity Health reported a 100 million dollar fee for switching to a more unified EHR system. However, more popular EHR systems like Epic — and the medical computers with built-in Epic compatibility — have a wider reach and more options for inter-hospital communication.
Improved Patient Outcomes
Top hospitals all have one thing in common, and it’s both the most important and least-surprising component: patient quality of care, patient satisfaction, and patient outcomes.
It’s unhelpful to say “the best hospitals are the ones that have the healthiest patients.” It’s more important to dive into why these patients go home happier and healthier.
Never Too Much Information
Top hospitals do keep a weather eye on feedback and metrics.
If patient outcomes take a dip, smart administrators will research all of the changes to the hospital up to a few months before the drop. A strong system of data — perhaps stored on the blockchain mentioned earlier and accessible by any connected medical PC — can allow admin to cross-check contributing factors like management changes, new hires, equipment installation / loss, season, new epidemics, and even economic or political changes in the area.
As Sherlock Holmes would say: “Data, data, data.” You can’t make bricks without clay.
Ask the Patients
Patient care and patient outcomes go hand-in-hand, which is why user surveys are so important to top-level hospitals.
There are three great times for administering patient satisfaction surveys: when they are discharged, on the patient portal afterward, and in-room during care. While discharge and portal surveys are best left in written or digital form, a quick in-person check can provide emotional context clues.
Some hospitals have a staff manager make a quick round with every patient, asking them something simple like “how was the food?”, “were your medications explained well?” and/or “were your needs met in a timely manner?” Consider including one of your common pain points in the survey. If your hospital has been receiving negative feedback about patients feeling like they aren’t being given options, ask the current patient if they feel that way.
This in-person survey answers can either be jotted down on a clipboard by the staff member, or inputted into a medical tablet or nearby medical computer.
Studies have shown that an engaged patient is an attentive patient, one who takes responsibility for their own healthcare.
They participate as a member of the medical team, especially when given the education and support by the hospital or healthcare provider.
Improving Patient Portals
Top hospitals and healthcare providers have online patient portals, a place for patients to make and manage appointments (at a minimum). However, top facilities push even further, creating a one-stop-shop for patient education and communication.
The best portals allow patients to pursue educational videos and programs based on their conditions — if a patient is undergoing a vasectomy, for instance, a flag in the system sends the appropriate videos, statistics, and study materials to the patient’s inbox.
Consider offering voluntary quizzes or “refreshers” where the patient can demonstrate and cement their knowledge of their condition or upcoming procedure.
The Human Touch
Engagement in person is just as important.
Clinicians need to be trained to present diagnoses and treatment options in layman’s terms, verifying every step of the way that the patient is synthesizing the information and not just nodding and smiling. Ask them what they know about their condition already, and use this opportunity to (gently) correct them if they are under false impressions.
If there are any available, accessible education videos or visual aids you could show the patient on something like a medical LCD monitor, that will only help them retain information.
In performing these “educational checks,” the top hospitals in the United States (and the world) help patients make the most of their treatment, and reduce the kind of misconceptions and errors that end up putting patients right back in the hospital.
Community Importance / Engagement
While medical care will always be of primary importance, top hospitals have expanded beyond the patient’s room and out into the community.
Food insecurity has a devastating effect on patient success and long-term health, both physically and mentally. The higher-ranking hospitals usually have some kind of food bank or pantry program to help feed underprivileged members of the community. It isn’t just about charity — though that is a noble goal — it’s a natural extension of a hospital’s function. Malnutrition — especially at a young age — can lead to a host of health problems later in life.
Hospitals that provide safe playgrounds, libraries, or indoor play-spaces for community children are most effective in low-income or high-crime areas. A study by the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University found that crime increased markedly around parks, with some areas displaying crime statistics twice as high in the park as in surrounding environs.
And since children are the most common users of park playgrounds, well-meaning attempts to have fun and get some exercise could end up exposing the most at-risk children to unhealthy experiences. Safe and supervised hospital playground spaces mitigate that damage, providing a safe space for neighborhood children to play and thrive.
Reaching and engaging the community can provide a kind of pre-emptive healthcare, giving those in need the tools and education necessary to live a long and healthy life.
When it comes to examining why top hospitals are so effective and laudable, it’s a smart idea to also take a look at possible contributing factors.
While the following factors may not necessarily land on this side of the causation/correlation loop, the stats don’t lie, and these factors do seem disproportionately common in higher-scoring hospitals.
The Power of Teaching Hospitals
While many might shy away from getting their haircut at a barber college, it turns out that healthcare at a teaching hospital tends to rank higher.
They even have lower mortality rates: a study posted on PubMed found that “private teaching hospitals had a significantly lower adjusted mortality rate than private nonteaching hospitals,” with an 8-point increase in survival rates for the teaching hospitals.
Some believe that since both the teachers and students are on their best behavior, and are under such stringent regulations and supervision that their care may be similarly elevated.
More experimental or rare medical procedures are often only available at teaching hospitals, allowing student doctors to experience a wide variety of solutions like bone marrow transplants and other specialized surgeries. This could explain some of the higher patient outcomes coming out of a teaching hospital — many patients who need difficult procedures end up receiving them at these educational hospitals.
Size Doesn’t Matter
Large hospitals may have the benefit of resources, but they don’t always score higher based off size alone.
In the 2016 “100 Great Hospitals in America” listing by Becker Hospital Review, only 15% of their top-level hospitals had over 1,000 beds. And while every other hospital on the list wasn’t necessarily a three-bed hospice, it does show that “biggest guns” may not be as important to patient outcome as one would believe at first blush.
A Pinch of Salt
Remember to take hospital ratings with a healthy dose of skepticism — hospitals are simply too complicated to be easily graded. And, doing well on reviews might mean that the hospital is just good at the paperwork required by reviewing bodies.
However, the basic tenets of patient care, innovation, and communication will always hold out over the ratings on a medical blog.
To learn more about integrating the latest medical computers and how they can streamline processes in a hospital, contact Cybernet today.