This post was written by our Guest Blogger Megan O’Donnell who is our Healthcare Division Manager here at RMS.
Customer satisfaction has been a key measure for companies in every industry for decades. Only in the past several years has the need to consider, much less measure, customer satisfaction become important in the world of healthcare. It had long been the standard that the only measure of providing quality healthcare was found in the clinical outcome of the care provided. In today’s consumer driven healthcare environment, however, patient satisfaction is an important health outcome measure. Here are a few of the key reasons why every physician practice should be measuring patient satisfaction.
Find out what really matters to your patients. What you consider important in providing quality care to your patients may differ from what they perceive as important. You may be tempted to think that access issues are less important than quality (after all, what does waiting time have to do with competent medical care?), but understand that your patients think otherwise. Data from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) has shown that patients place access issues at the top of their list of what makes them satisfied.
Show your commitment to quality improvement. Surveys can help you identify ways of improving your practice. It shows your staff, patients and the community that you’re interested in quality. Ultimately, that translates into better care and happier patients. Do not expect huge revelations. Look for refinement opportunities. Most patients already like the practice; the properly designed survey will help find ways to make them love it and, more importantly, talk about it enthusiastically.
Be competitive in the market. The marketplace you work in is demanding that data on patient satisfaction be used to empower consumers. Leonard Fromer, MD, a family physician in a group practice in Santa Monica, California, and member of the AAFP’s Commission on Health Care Services stated, “If we physicians don’t get on board and try to make the data as good as possible, and get our scores as high as possible, we’re going to be hurt in the marketplace. We’ll be noncompetitive.”
Celebrate your practice’s successes. When you conduct a patient satisfaction survey, chances are you will receive a lot of positive feedback from your patients. This feedback can be celebrated and shared with providers, staff, your patient base, and in any marketing efforts within the community.
Use patient satisfaction in compensation/bonus structures. Using patient satisfaction levels as a “carrot” for providers in terms of bonus dollars and the like will increase the attention paid towards keeping patients satisfied.
Attract more new patients. Satisfied patients are more likely to refer family and friends to your practice. To do that, practices first will need to determine exactly what patient expectations must be met to create that level of satisfaction.
Improve patient relations. Often, the process of conducting satisfaction measurement will increase patient loyalty. Patients will like becoming part of the process; they appreciate being heard. Creating a relationship and showing concern and caring for each patient will help to meet their needs and expectations. It is impossible to meet every patient’s needs, but if a relationship exists, the patients will generally be satisfied, nonetheless. Patient retention will improve, as there will be fewer dissatisfied patients. Satisfied patients will pay for services on time and reduce collection efforts. Practices have designed their patient education materials on the basis of questions that patients repeatedly ask in written survey responses.
Build morale among staff. Patient satisfaction data is also valuable for staff training, morale-building and creative marketing. Physicians in one practice wore a pin that referenced a patient satisfaction score by saying: “95 percent, going for 100.” The pin elicited questions by curious patients that gave physicians and staff the opportunity to answer enthusiastically. Patient satisfaction equates to quality service. Quality service means better staff morale, less staff turnover, and improved efficiency and productivity.
Be accountable. More and more, physicians are compelled to show that they have acceptable levels of patient satisfaction. In fact, a number of standards-setting organizations and consumer groups have begun using patient satisfaction as a key indicator of health care quality. In new initiatives such as NCQA’s PCC-PCMH accreditation process, patient satisfaction measurement is a key standard that must be met to attain the highest levels of accreditation.
Regulatory, economic and social factors are causing this heightened awareness of quality service, particularly in healthcare. Within the past 15 years, patients have changed: they are now consumers of healthcare services. Not unlike Disney, the Marriott or Wal-Mart, consumers will shop for products and services and will not settle for poor service. They are no longer the passive, unquestioning recipients of medical benevolence. This is especially true of the baby boomer generation. This generation is known to be more educated and more demanding; they see themselves as an active participant in life as opposed to someone who “sits on the bench” while life passes by.
Why use an outside firm to conduct patient satisfaction surveying?
Using outside experts to design, implement, and maintain a satisfaction-survey program can actually be cost-effective because it allows staff members to conduct their daily business uninterrupted. A serious consideration is the need for independent objective assessment. Patients will be more inclined to provide honest, constructive feedback if there is a degree of separation between their survey responses and the people that they see at the practice each visit. Furthermore, accreditation and standard-setting organizations such as NCQA now recognize the importance of objectivity in satisfaction measurement and require that satisfaction data used for health plan accreditation purposes be collected by an outside survey vendor. Finally, an outside expert can be expected to employ rigorous evaluation methods to ensure data quality and effective reporting of satisfaction findings.
For more information on conducting patient satisfaction surveying, contact Sandy Baker here at RMS at 315-635-9802, or e-mail her at SandyB@rmsresults.com.