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VA Hospitals Outperform Private Sector in Patient Experience

By Audrey Bhullar, Public Affairs Specialist, Veterans Experience Office

Recent results from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) show that VA’s investments in its customer experience program continues to yield significant improvements in the VA patient experience (PX).

In HCAHPS’s April 2023 release, 72% of VA medical centers received four or five HCAHPS Summary Stars for the patient survey rating, compared with 41% of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) hospitals reporting HCAHPS Summary Stars during the same period.

Five years ago, only 26% of VA hospitals received four or five HCAHPS Stars for Patient Survey Rating—rising to 72% in the latest April 2023 results. The recent HCAHPS data indicates that VA facilities outperformed community hospitals on all 10 core patient satisfaction metrics—including overall hospital rating, communication with doctors, communication about medication, care transition and more.

It’s all about the journey

After consulting industry leaders and best practices, VA conducted a broad qualitative research project to better understand Veterans’ life journeys. Using the Human Centered Design (HCD) methodology, VA created what became the Veteran Journey Map. This journey map identified key customer steps, moments that matter, bright spots and pain points.

To maximize Veteran trust, VA needed to understand the inpatient experience from the Veteran’s perspective. This desire for understanding and improvement in service delivery led VA to develop the Inpatient Hospitalization Experience and Inpatient Discharge Experience Journey Maps. These journey maps represent a common set of moments Veterans experience while inpatient or preparing to leave a VA medical center.

Listening to the voice of the Veteran

VA also relies on Veteran feedback to make improvements. To best understand the overall experience, VA uses the Veterans Signals (VSignals) survey and Survey of Healthcare Experiences of Patients (SHEP).  VSignals has been collecting feedback since 2016 and has received more than 11.6 million responses through more than 100 surveys across VA services. The SHEP inpatient discharge survey asks the same questions as the HCAHPS survey.

In June 2021, VA began sending out VSignals inpatient surveys after identifying the moments that matter most to Veterans in their inpatient hospitalization and discharge experience. Over 18,000 Veterans have provided feedback, and a recent survey shows that in fiscal year (FY) 2023, 89.3% of inpatient Veterans reported they trusted VA for their health care, increased from a trust score of 88% in FY 2021. In FY 2023, 90.4% of inpatient Veterans reported they were satisfied with the care they received in the hospital, and 90.6% of inpatients reported that their care team was there for them when needed.

Improving the hospital experience

After analyzing survey data and creating Inpatient Journey Maps, VA gained a better understanding of its customers and launched innovative initiatives using HCD techniques to improve the patient experience.

Many tools and programs were created to improve interactions identified as moments that matter most to patients in their inpatient journey. PX Toolkits focused on improving the inpatient experience for Veterans, including Commit to Sit, Patient Communication Whiteboards and the Discharge Checklist. VA facilities implementing these toolkits have seen improvements in overall hospital rating, communication with nurses and communication with doctors.

Approximately 92% of Veterans Health Administration employees have also been trained in VA’s customer experience training program, Own the Moment (OTM).  OTM training empowers VA employees to deliver a positive customer service experience by connecting emotionally with Veterans.

VA facilities nationwide have already implemented several of these PX programs. These programs ensure every employee is trained and focused on consistent delivery of care in an exceptional manner. 

Veterans’ journeys will continue to evolve, and VA stands ready to implement initiatives to provide a better patient experience across the organization.

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