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What is HCAHPS and Why Should Nurses Care?

Career News September 10, 2013

HCAHPS stands for “Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems.” It allows consumers to track hospital standards so that they are able to make informed decisions about their healthcare providers.

In short, the HCAHPS program is the hospital focused part of the larger CAHPS program. CAHPS is a multiyear initiative created by and run by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). It is focused on supporting and promoting patients’ assessments on the health care that they receive.

Objectives of the HCAHPS Program

HCAHPS nurses should understand that this program was not created to place undue stress on nurses. Many reviews of this program claim that it places too much emphasis on the quality of nursing care that patients receive while in the hospital. According to the AHRQ, however, that is not the goal of this program. There are three essential objectives of the program, and they are as follows:

•The development of standard patient questionnaire will allow the AHRQ to compare patient experiences between different hospitals and over different time frames
•The use of public reports as a way to incentivize hospitals to improve their hospital standards.
•The generation of greater accountability by healthcare providers by increasing the visibility of hospital assessments

HCAHPS Surveys are designed to assess hospital standards based on patients’ experiences. Typically, they are written in ways that focus on the areas of the healthcare experience, where the patient can most easily access. Surveys focus on the relationship that the patient had with their healthcare providers. The survey for HCAHPS, that nurses should realize, has twenty seven questions.

There are four screening questions, five demographic questions, and eighteen questions on patient opinions. These eighteen questions focus on eight topics:

•The relationship the patient had with the doctors
•The relationship the patient had with the nurses
•How responsive the hospital staff was
•How well pain was managed
•How well information about medicine was communicated
•How clean the hospital was
•How the patient felt about hospital standards surrounding their discharge
•How quiet the hospital was

Although nurses are directly cited in only one of those topic areas, it is likely that their performance will be assessed by the patients while they are answering questions pertaining to the other eight topics. Nurses tend to be responsible for most patient interactions at hospitals. They tend to be people with whom the patient communicates the most, and they tend to be the face of the hospital for most patients. For this reason, HCAHPS assessments are often thought to be a direct reflection of nurses in hospitals.

HCAHPS Surveys are public once they are completed because they are part of the public domain. That means that anyone can view them. The purpose of these surveys, as designated by the AHRQ, is to help patients and consumers make informed choices about their healthcare providers. However, this information is also accessed by quality monitors and regulators who wish to understand more about particular hospitals.

These people may be able to impact how a hospital changes or develops. Administrators of health plans or community collaborators may use this data to determine whether or not they would like to include a particular hospital in their network. Although these factors may not affect anyone, nurses in particular, they can have an effect on the hospital as a whole and thus an impact on the providers who are employed by that hospital. Data from the HCAHPS nurses should realize can also be used in other ways.

Quality monitors, health plan administers, and even hospital employees may use the data collected by these surveys as benchmarks to determine the direction that hospitals should take. The HCAHPS was not designed only to assess nurses. However, it effectively focuses on the role of nurses in hospitals.

As individuals, nurses may not be affected by this program. However, it may have a significant impact on their current and future role as healthcare providers in hospital settings.

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