Beyond vital signs: Thermometry also vital to patient satisfaction and the bottom line

Aug. 2, 2019
A closer look at thermometry shows it has a bigger effect on patients and healthcare professionals than you may think.

Sometimes changing the smallest things can produce the biggest results. Take hospital costs and patient satisfaction. With the fate of hospitals’ reputations and Medicare reimbursement so strongly linked to the patient experience, administrators need to find ways to improve this across the full spectrum of the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) satisfaction measures.

Areas like equipment, technology, staff training and development are all significant investments that can make a difference. But one area of improvement that might surprise you is thermometry. While it is often overlooked because it is such an integral part of patient care, thermometry can play a significant role in reducing costs and increasing revenue. As we’ve seen from our work with hospitals, temperature taking can impact patient satisfaction by contributing to a positive hospital experience.

 First impressions matter

In virtually all medical situations, such as admittance to an ER or hospital, the first point of care is taking the patient’s temperature. That means either using a Temporal Artery thermometer that gives an accurate reading with just a quick, gentle scan of the forehead, or a more invasive oral or ear thermometer which is often irritating to the patient.

In the case of an oral thermometer, patients can’t even communicate – they are literally silenced while their temperature is being taken. We know that whatever method is used makes an impact: In a recent survey of adults who had spent one or more nights in a hospital over the past two years, 85 percent remembered what type of thermometer was used on them. That simple interaction can set the tone for the rest of their hospital stay, including their departure, when their temperature is taken again, book-ending their visit. So, when patients fill out their hospital experience survey, this small but vital interaction can work for or against the hospital.

Let sleeping patients sleep

Few things are more important to a patient’s speedy recovery than making sure they can get a good night’s sleep. When they can’t – be it due to loud noise, fluorescent lights, late night rounds or vitals signs checks – not only does it put their health and recovery at risk, it can damage a hospital’s rating, as the HCAHPS patient satisfaction survey specifically asks about nighttime noise levels.

Eager to move toward more patient-centered care and obtain positive patient experience ratings, hospitals across the country are trying different measures to give patients a good night’s sleep. These include installing ambient white-noise machines; using sound-absorbing ceiling tiles and carpets; limiting nighttime activity to what is strictly essential; and setting defined sleeping hours during which there are no routine vital signs checks.

 The long-standing practice of checking vitals in the middle of the night, however, is still practiced in most hospitals today. Taking vital signs as efficiently as possible and as least disruptively to the patient is another area where thermometry makes a difference. Look to using a noninvasive forehead thermometer that uses just a quick forehead scan to get an accurate reading while not waking the patient. This is particularly important with an older patient, an infant, child or someone in severe pain.

Small steps can mean big steps in increasing staff efficiency and patient satisfaction

Every day, millions of temperatures are taken in hospitals nationwide, and each thermometer needs to be disinfected between uses. For some thermometers, millions of disposable covers are being used and discarded daily. The exception to this is the temporal scanner, which can be used without disposable covers on the same patient during their hospital stay, or can be wiped with an alcohol prep pad between patients. That saves countless disposable covers, whose costs – and the staff time required to change them – quickly add up.

When it comes to providing care in hospital rooms, reducing the number of steps a nurse has to take to complete a task can quickly add up to better patient satisfaction and staff time savings. In the case of thermometry, look for models that can be tethered to the wall next to the patient’s bed so that they are exactly where they need to be, and the same thermometer is used on the same patient each time. Taking the time to locate a piece of equipment as basic as a thermometer, along with the accompanying stress, takes its toll on nurses and patients alike.

 Today’s hospital environment is in constant flux, as new procedures, protocols and requirements challenge the status quo. With so many aspects competing for attention and dollars, it can be hard to set priorities and determine which products and processes stay, and which need to make way for others. While thermometry is a given, a closer look may show you that it has a bigger effect on patients and healthcare professionals than you may think. The right decisions about thermometry pay off in all the right areas: Costs, staff efficiency and patient satisfaction with their hospital stay.

About the Author

Francesco Pompei, PhD

Francesco Pompei, PhD,is Founder and CEO of  Exergen Corporation and inventor of the TemporalArtery Thermometer.