As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, America’s hospitals face an urgent need to reduce costs and increase revenue. While vaccinations and safety protocols have helped, many hospitals still face revenue losses and decreased patient volume. Hospital operating margins decreased nearly 27 percent between December 2020 and January 2021 — 46 percent when compared with the same period a year earlier. Meanwhile, patient lengths of stay have increased 12.6 percent.

As a former essential hospital CEO, I am sympathetic to the challenges facing hospitals committed to ensuring access to care and optimal health for low-income and other marginalized people. I believe that, even in unprecedented times, we can improve patient satisfaction and expand value-based care. Essential hospitals can emerge from the pandemic stronger, with reimagined care strategies to control costs and increase margins. What’s more, doing so is key to enabling investments in new facilities, treatments, and technologies to improve patient care.

Patient Engagement Affects Experience and Outcomes

Hospitals rank lower on the recent American Customer Satisfaction Index than ambulatory care facilities, banks, and health insurers. Improving patient satisfaction scores and patient experience should be a top priority for hospitals because it is a key quality domain in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program and an integral part of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Triple Aim.

Patients at essential hospitals might face bigger challenges than their health, so it’s even more critical to support their care journey in a digestible and user-friendly way. For instance, a patient undergoing a total knee replacement receives myriad pre- and post-operation instructions. Often, these instructions are not tailored to the specific patient, which may diminish patient engagement and affect quality of care. Patient engagement can improve not only experience, but also outcomes, such as by decreasing hospital admissions. In a recent McKinsey consumer survey, 33 percent of all respondents with unplanned, high-cost follow-up care reported reasons for this care that they considered avoidable, such as lacking clear discharge instructions or receiving inadequate post-acute care.

A Win-Win-Win Proposition

Let’s imagine a future in which patients coproduce health with clinicians — when health care is a team effort of synchronization among hospital administrators, clinicians, and patients.

With the right tools, hospitals can identify and realize opportunities for improvement in their systems seamlessly, enabling patients and their clinicians to achieve better outcomes. It’s possible for hospitals to have a connected and intelligent workflow system to replace the current system of fragmented data and tools. Here’s how to achieve it:

  1. Start with an interactive command center that identifies prioritized opportunities to reduce variations in costs and suboptimal outcomes or quality measures across service lines, facilities, and providers;
  2. Connect the command center to a tool that provides recommendations to clinicians and supports peer learning. For example, if the recommendation suggests a more cost-effective surgical implant, this tool might provide a video of the appropriate technique; and
  3. Use a patient engagement tool to power easy-to-follow and tailored pre- and post-operation instructions with patient-reported outcomes surveys at the patient’s fingertips based on their risk profiles. Imagine a tool through which a patient can learn from another patient’s experience of the same surgery or share tips for managing pain during recovery.

The Future is Here

America’s hospitals should invest in a holistic solution with data-driven care recommendations and intervention tools to coproduce health with patients and to realize the potential return on investment. Many technology companies, including association corporate affiliate member Verily, are developing these tools and seek engaged hospital partners. Using data and technology to unite administrators, clinicians, and patients with an unwavering focus on engagement, we can achieve faster recovery, reduced readmissions, and improved patient satisfaction.