DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The federal government is rewarding hospitals that meet certain experts' standards. The experts are you, the patients. Medical Park Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C., is receiving a bonus this year. WFAE's Michael Tomsic looks at why.
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MICHAEL TOMSIC, BYLINE: In Medical Park's post-op area, Angela Koons is still a little loopy and uncomfortable after wrist surgery. But nurse Suzanne Cammer makes her smile.
SUZANNE CAMMER: All right, sweetheart, while you're enjoying your crackers there, is your hand hurting at all now?
ANGELA KOONS: It just itches.
CAMMER: Itches? Do not stick anything down there to scratch it.
KOONS: I know.
TOMSIC: Cammer is wearing charm bracelets and earrings.
CAMMER: I just thought it would make people happy. And I jingle all over.
TOMSIC: The patient, Koons, says she's had a great experience.
CAMMER: They've been really nice, you know, very efficient. And you know - gave me plenty of blankets because it's really cold in this place (laughter).
TOMSIC: Asked to rate their satisfaction on a 10-point scale, she and her stepdad, Raymond Zwack, give Medical Park the same rating.
TOMSIC: You hear a lot of that at Medical Park.
KAREN SIBERT: Ten.
GEORGE STILPHEN: Nine or 10.
EMILY WILLARD: Ten.
TOMSIC: Those were patients Karen Sibert, George Stilphen and Emily Willard. This year, the hospital received a $22,000 bonus from Medicare in part because of sterling patient satisfaction surveys. None of Novant Health's dozen or so other hospitals even came close on patient scores. But staff surgeon Scott Berger says this isn't your typical hospital.
SCOTT BERGER: It kind of feels almost like a mom-and-pop shop.
TOMSIC: For one, Medical Park is really small - only two floors. It just does surgeries, like fixing shoulders and removing prostates and mostly for people with insurance. Here's another key from Chief Operating Officer Chad Setliff.
CHAD SETLIFF: These patients are elective. So they're choosing to come here, they're choosing their physician.
TOMSIC: No one at Medical Park was rushed to the hospital or waited a long time in the emergency room. This place doesn't even have an emergency room. Chas Roades of the Advisory Board Company, a consulting firm, says these are advantages many small hospitals have over large ones.
CHAS ROADES: The game is sort of rigged against them in a sense just because of kind of facility they are.
TOMSIC: And this is the third year hospitals can get bonuses or pay cuts in part because of those scores. They can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The adjustment comes from Medicare. So far, small, specialized hospitals are more likely to get bonuses. What you probably think of when you hear hospital - massive, noisy, hectic - they're more likely to get penalized.
ROADES: The big teaching hospitals, urban trauma centers - those kind of facilities don't tend to do as well on patient satisfaction because they're just busy, crowded. There's a lot of different caregivers that interact with the patients.
TOMSIC: Roades says the patient surveys aren't perfect, but they are fair.
ROADES: In any other part of the economy, if you and I were getting bad service somewhere, if we weren't happy with our auto mechanic or we weren't happy with where we went to get our hair cut, we'd go somewhere else.
TOMSIC: In health care, patients rarely have that choice. So Roades says hospitals should be measured by what patients think. At Medical Park, executives say there are ways big hospitals can seem smaller and raise their scores. Nurse Gennie Tedde is walking patient Jeremy Silkstone through a pre-surgical visit.
GENNIE TEDDE: My job as a nurse is to talk with you about your health history.
TOMSIC: It's a chance a week or two before surgery to connect with patients and prepare them for what can be a painful process.
TEDDE: It's very important that you have realistic expectations about pain after surgery.
TOMSIC: Medical Park now handles this for some of its parent company's other bigger hospitals. Silkstone, for example, will have surgery at the huge hospital right across the street, Forsyth Medical Center. Medical Park nursing director Carol Smith says when her staff took over pre-surgical...
CAROL SMITH: Forsyth's outpatient surgical scores increased by 10 percent.
TOMSIC: Still, some doctors and patients who've been to both hospitals agree the smaller one is destined to have higher scores. It's just warmer and fuzzier, one patient says. For NPR News, I'm Michael Tomsic.
GREENE: Michael's story was part of a reporting partnership between NPR local member stations and Kaiser Health News.
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