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Addressing the changing patient perceptions of clean


COVID-19 elevated patients’ awareness of environmental factors, intrinsically tying their perceptions of personal hygiene to how they feel about hospital cleanliness and impacting their overall experience.  

This trend created a new challenge for hospital leaders: How do you address shifting perceptions of cleanliness to meet an even higher bar when you’re already doing all you can to provide a safe and clean environment? In 2021, Compass One Healthcare, an environmental service industry leader, partnered with Press Ganey to identify key drivers of patient perception, address heightened patient anxiety around cleanliness, and improve the overall patient experience (PX). Download the full report here or read on for some of the highlights.  

People care about cleanliness more than ever and correlate it with safety

Patients are increasingly aware of hospital hygiene and safety practices, like handwashing, use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and sanitization. The word "sanitize" has also started to show up more in inpatient comments.  

At the same time, national scores related to patient perceptions of environmental cleanliness continue to clock in below pre-pandemic levels. Organizations must examine the consistency with which they follow proper sanitization measures, then directly communicate to patients the steps they're taking to ensure a clean and safe environment. This will not only help assuage patients’ anxieties, but it will also drive improvements in PX outcomes

Room cleanliness and caregiver hygiene aren’t just important for reducing patient anxiety. They’re crucial for preventing and reducing the risk of physical harm. Hospitals with lower PX cleanliness scores typically see higher infection rates. This trend lends substance and credibility to the general patient view that observable cleanliness reflects the hospital overall.  

Patient cleanliness perceptions often go hand in hand with other safety indicators—like staff responsiveness and nurse communication. These factors can also affect a patient's decision to recommend an organization via survey feedback, online reviews, and word-of-mouth testimonials, all of which can have a significant impact on new patient acquisition.  

Specific cleaning procedures and communication influence patient perception

Compass One incorporated these priorities into its “5 Pillars of Clean” program to elevate environmental and personal cleanliness. This program addresses both the clinical reality of clean—emphasizing protocols like hand hygiene and surface measurement—and perceptions of clean by engaging stakeholders and promoting teamwork.  

Whether a patient “feels” like the environment is clean significantly impacts PX cleanliness scores. Making hand sanitizer readily accessible, integrating UV devices to disinfect rooms, and distributing hygiene kits all foster a safer and more comfortable environment, yielding "memorable" cleaning events that help patients feel safer. 

Hospital leaders must also consider creative strategies to effectively communicate—in word and in action—how their teams are continually providing a safe and clean environment. Understanding patients’ expectations and perceptions is essential for maintaining a positive reputation and providing a safe experience now and in the future.

Download the full report for more insights.


About the author

Marty oversees the Experience solutions team in Strategic Consulting, partnering with clients to improve culture, employee and physician engagement, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. He drives improvement by reducing turnover, sustaining change, and develop tools and techniques to create an inclusive and equitable environment. Prior to joining Press Ganey, Marty was Vice President of Engagement Services at Avatar Solutions.

Profile Photo of Martin Wright