Medical practices utilize patient satisfaction surveys for many of the same reasons that a software company would want to collect feedback from it’s customer about recent customer support interaction.
Happier patients and customers refer other people at a much higher rate than those who are dissatisfied.
The unique perspective of patients and customers is also valuable in shedding light on areas in the practices’ methodologies and processes where they were happy, stuck or frustrated.
The comparison between patients and customers only goes so far, however.
Patient surveys have inherent challenges that greatly affect both the goals that should be set for the satisfaction survey projects as well as the questions that should be asked.
Don’t Confuse Patient Satisfaction with Patient Happiness
Successful service-oriented organizations dutifully prescribe to the mantra “the customer is always right”.
If applying this thinking to the medical world we might claim that “the patient is always right”, that is until we realize the inherent danger in using this motto.
The stark reality is that patients leave doctor’s offices each day receiving news about their health that possibly did not meet the expectations that they had when they arrived.
Receiving a high patient happiness score in this case would be next to impossible, but this doesn’t mean that satisfaction scores can’t be captured that would allow the patient to reflect on the overall experience of their visit without focusing on the diagnosis that they received.
Sometimes procedural disagreements may occur. A patient may want additional tests to be run while a doctor may view such tests as unnecessary given the high confidence of their diagnosis.
In this case the patient might be unhappy as well as dissatisfied with the process and overall experience of their visit.
This is all the more reason to ensure that the right goals are chosen for the patient satisfaction project.
The Patient Satisfaction Mission: Measure Human Interactions
With the reality accepted that patients might not always know what’s best for them, it’s best to devote much of the survey measuring the people skills of those involved with the practice.
Many of the questions should be focused on their interactions with doctors:
- Did your physician spend enough time discussing your needs?
- Did your physician treat you with respect?
- Did you physician explain treatment in a way that you could understand?
Interactions with the staff are also crucial:
- Was the staff at the front desk helpful?
- Was the staff courteous?
- Was the staff helpful?
Patients are not experts on what is good for them in a medical sense, but they are judge and jury when it comes to detecting a bad attitude.
Patients who can be persuaded of the good intentions and compassion of the doctors and staff will be more likely to follow the treatment plans prescribed to them, and will refer others to the practice raving about their positive experience.
And as an added bonus, high patient satisfaction scores are sure to follow. This, of course, is nothing but a good thing and can even help the practice meet certain accreditation standards by documenting their track record in maintaining high patient satisfaction scores over time.
Patient Satisfaction Surveys are a Tool to Improve Daily Operations
Patient satisfaction surveys are also instrumental in improving the daily operations of the medical practice.
Making improvements to the efficiency and overall effectiveness of the practice leads to happier patients and better positions the practice to enjoy higher profitability.
Simple questions can quickly begin to tell a story:
- Did you appointment begin within 10 minutes of the scheduled time?
- What did you think of the cleanliness of the office?
- What would’ve made your visit better? Please share in your own words.
Patient Satisfaction Levels: Before, During, and After the Appointment
It’s important to evaluate the entire patient experience, which begins with the impression that they receive from their very first interaction with the practice.
This could be the practice’s website or any advertising that they were exposed to. Results here can be used by marketing teams to verify the return on investment for their campaigns.
Of crucial importance is their experience with scheduling appointments, so the following questions should be included:
How satisfied are you with the availability of appointment times?
Was someone available for you to speak with when you called to make an appointment?
Did you receive your appointment reminder email/call?
These questions convey to the patient a sense that the practice genuinely cares about the full patient experience. This includes some details that may be small for some, but very significant for others.
Surveying patients after their appointment can also yield safety benefits.
For example, for patients who were prescribed a medication to take, they can be asked whether or not their physician provided clear and concise instructions on the amount and frequency that the medication should be taken.
If ambiguity is found here in the survey results then this could present safety issues for the patient.
Keep the Focus on Human Interactions and Day-to-Day Operations
It can be tempting to cover a plethora of topics within a patient satisfaction survey, but it's important to focus on those issues that physicians and staff have the most control over.
Communication and human interactions are at the heart of each patient visit. Patients that are appropriately engaged with their needs and concerns being heard and addressed will be the most satisfied.
Patients who have faith in the good intentions of their physicians will be more apt to follow the healthcare instructions that are prescribed to them.
This is in keeping with the ultimate goal of patient care, which is for the patient's health to improve. As their health improves so will their happiness.
Cures aren't instantaneous, so it's best for survey questions to focus on the patient's interactions with the staff rather than their satisfaction levels regarding the current state of their health.