Two days ago I wrote about how “experience” is increasingly valued by consumers over things like brand, product and opportunity. Hopefully you noticed that I attributed my enjoyment largely to the service elements of the experience and not the available amenities. That is an important distinction because that is often what really matters.
Back in 2015 The Atlantic wrote about how hospitals with high patient satisfaction scores had some of the worst mortality and reinfection rates in the country. Tying reimbursement rates to patient satisfaction surveys has lead to a focus on patient comfort and demands to the detriment of their medical well-being.
Many hospitals seem to be highly focused on pixie-dusted sleight of hand because they believe they can trick patients into thinking they got better care. The emphasis on these trappings can ultimately cost hospitals money and patients their health, because the smoke and mirrors serve to distract from the real problem, which CMS does not address: Patient surveys won’t drastically and directly improve healthcare.
But research has shown that hiring more nurses, and treating them well, can accomplish just that. It turns out that nurses are the key to patient satisfaction after all—but not in the way that hospitals have interpreted.
… And University of Pennsylvania professor Linda Aiken found that higher staffing of registered nurses has been linked to fewer patient deaths and improved quality of health…When hospitals improve nurse working conditions, rather than tricking patients into believing they’re getting better care, the quality of care really does get better.
Now obviously, people don’t usually die if they have a negative reaction to an arts experience. An arts and cultural organization rarely has a situation where there is as clear a distinction between what a customer wants and what they need as in a hospital.
One thing we can take from the article is that just as teaching to the test doesn’t necessarily result in higher quality graduates, adding glitz and glamour in order to improve survey results doesn’t guarantee people will really have a fulfilling experience.
The Atlantic article talked about how hospital administrators were concerned that patients gave the food low scores. They blamed the nurses for doing a bad job at making it sound appetizing rather than trying to improve the food. There are some pretty clear parallels between that and blaming the marketing department for failing to make a show sound appealing while neglecting to evaluate the programming choices.
To a degree, the need to focus on programming choices and training staff to offer a positive experience should be encouraging to non-profit arts organizations that don’t have the resources to offer a lot of fancy amenities. Notice that providing sufficient staffing was important. The resources to accomplish that can be a challenge for many.
I was fortunate to be at a table with the head of my state arts council yesterday to hear her say she wanted grant reports that were honest about what did and didn’t work rather than telling the arts council that everything was going great, just as they expected. There was a sense in her comments that the arts organizations in the state needed to be stretching themselves to try different things and figure out what did and didn’t work.
(She also allowed me to evangelize a little on Building Public Will For Arts and Culture!)
At the conversations I had at the event yesterday, I was happy to see that colleagues across the state had already begun to sense that the focus was shifting to providing creative experience without it necessarily being explicitly stated.
The one question from The Atlantic article I still haven’t quite resolved is whether audiences surveys really have a lot of value or not. You may not receive effusive responses if your efforts on focused on competence rather than spectacle. The results may be good, but not so enthusiastic that you can take pride in moving the average score significantly.
If people aren’t moved by a strong reaction, they may not complete a survey and you won’t be completely sure how you are doing. You also don’t want strong reactions driving your decisions so you are basically left with either begging people to complete surveys honestly or don’t conduct surveys and just blindly hope you are headed in the right direction.
My suspicion is that there are alternative methods to soliciting and collecting information that don’t involve surveys. My further suspicion is these methods require more effort and resources to employ effectively than do surveys.