Are Your Patients as Satisfied as You Think They Are?

The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) recently found that over 60 percent of better-performing medical practices regularly use patient satisfaction surveys to measure, evaluate and improve their operations.

Ensuring that patients are happy has always been important to the practice of medicine. After all, displeased patients tend to defect to other providers. But collecting reportable patient feedback will soon be more critical than ever.

Public Knowledge of Satisfaction
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandated the creation and launch of the Physician Compare website, which went live in late 2010. Right now Physician Compare is simply a search tool for finding healthcare professionals in a geographic area.

Come January 1, 2013, however, the site should make “physician performance” information available to all consumers. The CMS will glean its performance data from patient feedback as it expands the “value-based purchasing model,” which currently applies only to hospitalists, to office-based physicians.

If you don’t start measuring patient satisfaction now, you could face unexpectedly poor scores – on a government site! – once Medicare makes you publicly report that data.

Satisfaction Breeds Outcomes
Your patients certainly already have the power to make their displeasures known. Tools like ZocDoc and Healthgrades – not to mention Facebook – provide online outlets for negative reviews, and the good old-fashioned “yell at the front desk attendant” method is still alive and well.

It can be all too easy, though, to brush off a patient outburst or harsh Internet comment as an isolated incident. Plus physicians, trained as they are to focus on actual patient care, often consider certain things that people complain about – long wait times, staff attitudes, poor communication – to be insignificant to the grand scheme of treatment.

But they are significant. From troubles with parking to unreturned phone calls, patients absorb every experience they have with your practice. Negative connotations with one aspect of a visit – say, an overly long line at check-in – can easily carry over to other things.

If that bad impression at check-in is still lingering in a patient’s mind when he receives care instructions from the physician, he’s more likely to negatively perceive the doctor’s behavior – and perhaps less likely to heed his medical advice.

HealthLeaders Media reported recently that research has found that “patients who have good experiences with their visits and perceive that their doctors treat them with respect are more likely to stick to recommended treatment plans.”

So whether a patient is dissatisfied with her wait time or unhappy with a nurse’s attitude, why risk letting a good medical outcome be spoiled by a negative impression?

Measuring satisfaction will allow you to learn your practice’s strengths and weaknesses, ensuring that you’re continually delivering an effective healthcare experience to your patients.

Get Feedback to Make Satisfaction Happen
You’ve got options when it comes to gauging satisfaction levels. If you have the resources, consider contracting with a market research firm to organize patient focus groups or conduct one-on-one interviews outside your office.

Those approaches are useful if you’re looking for the in-depth feedback you’d need to overhaul your methods and processes. If you’re looking for a less intense approach, though, you can take the tried-and-true route: patient surveying.

To deploy a structured, formal survey, consider using the services of a company like Press Ganey, who offers a Satisfaction Performance Suite product for medical practices that provides doctors and administrators with data-driven insight into satisfaction. Press Ganey’s tools are commonly used in large doctor groups.

Or handle the survey methods yourself. Discuss what aspects of patient satisfaction are most important for your staff to measure and draft up your own survey. Hand patients a paper form at check-in or email them a link to your questions on a site like SurveyMonkey.

Keep in mind that not every patient will participate, and your survey results may be skewed to reflect the attitudes of those who are either very happy or very unhappy with your practice. This is common with survey results in all business sectors.

To get more people to contribute their feedback (and thus more accurately reflect general satisfaction levels), consider incentivizing participation. Perhaps patients who complete the survey earn a discount on their copays or win free raffle tickets toward a larger prize.

Use the results of your findings to identify your weaknesses, improve your operations where needed and, ultimately, make your patients happier. Doing so will ensure consumer loyalty and help your practice continue to succeed.

How do you monitor and measure patient satisfaction?

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