Are online reviews, surveys, or other methods the best way to gather feedback?

What’s the best way to tell whether patients are satisfied with your practice? Positive online reviews? Lots of new patients requesting appointments? Good patient satisfaction survey scores? There are many ways to gather patient feedback. Here are some guidelines for how to approach the important issue of patient satisfaction—and a surprising factor you may be overlooking.

Are online ratings an accurate measure of patient satisfaction?

We’ve talked a lot about online reviews and how to manage your practice’s online reputation. There are more ratings and review sites on the Internet than ever before. According to the American Journal of Managed Care, in 2017 there were more than 400 web sites dedicated to patients’ feedback of their experiences in doctors’ offices. Health care specific review sites include Healthgrades, RateMDs, Amino, and Vitals, but general ratings sites like Yelp and Angie’s List are also popular places to review doctors.

“If people pick their physician solely based on online reviews…there’s a good chance they won’t be satisfied.” – Dr. Anil Ranawat

While many patients do begin their search for a new provider by checking online reviews, doctors and patients alike recognize the shortcomings of these often-anonymous ratings. “If people pick their physician solely based on online reviews and their insurance, there’s a good chance they won’t be satisfied,” Anil Ranawat, M.D., told Prevention. He was the lead author of a study that compared the ratings of 275 randomly selected sports-medicine doctors on three popular review sites and found little consistency—a doctor could have five stars on one site and two stars on another.

The number of stars doesn’t tell you whether a patient was dissatisfied with a doctor’s bedside manner, or didn’t get the prescription they requested, or any number of other factors that affect patient satisfaction. That’s why it’s important for doctors to be proactive, and ask patients the right questions.

For more on a related topic, check out our recent post, How to Capture Compelling Patient Testimonials

The right way to conduct a patient satisfaction survey

“When you know what you’re doing well and where there’s room for improvement, you’re able to create an optimal patient experience,” stated Patient Pop. Finding out what patients really want is the only way to be sure you’re meeting their needs. You can do this verbally, or with a patient satisfaction survey. This could be as simple as a brief, automatically generated form emailed to patients after their appointments. Keep it short: most people will exit out of a survey if it takes them longer than five minutes to complete, according to SurveyMonkey, an online survey platform.

For better patient surveys, keep questions short, specific, and behavior-focused; instead of “Were you satisfied with your care?” ask “How willing are you to refer a friend to our practice?”

Instead of asking general, yes/no questions like “Were you satisfied with your care?” get specific. For instance, ask “How was the appointment-scheduling process for you? How satisfied were you with the convenience and availability?” Patients’ responses might point you toward solutions that would improve things for them and your practice, such as online appointment scheduling or offering evening hours.

In a previous post we discussed some downsides of patient satisfaction surveys, such as pressure to overprescribe and provide expensive amenities. “‘Satisfaction,’ as measured in these surveys, has been shown not to correlate with quality of care,” wrote Harvard Business School professor Len Schlesinger on athenainsight. This is because the surveys measure emotional state and not behavior. A better way to predict loyalty is to ask patients about their intent to return and whether they would recommend your practice to friends, wrote Schlesinger.

For more on this topic, see Secrets of Patient Engagement and Loyalty

Office staff: patients’ first impression of your practice

Another question that’s important to ascertain patient satisfaction but is often overlooked is, “How were you treated by the front office staff?” According to Patient Pop, “A negative experience with your front office staff can cause patients to steer clear of your practice. Rude phone manners or a brusque attitude at check-in will make people feel uncomfortable.” You’ll never know if a receptionist’s bad day was behind that one-star review unless you ask.

Front office staff often form patients’ first impression of your practice. Keeping employees engaged and prioritizing a strong company culture will go a long way toward retaining staff—and patients. Employee satisfaction has a measurable impact on patient satisfaction, and is also linked to a practice’s financial performance, noted the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

Employee satisfaction has a measurable impact on patient satisfaction, and is also linked to a practice’s financial performance, according to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. Click To Tweet

In this post, Patient Pop recommends the L.E.A.D. approach for boosting staff satisfaction: Listen, Encourage, Acknowledge, and Develop.

For more on this topic, download our eBook, Top Secrets to Hiring, Training, and Retaining an All-Star Medical Staff.   

Ask, acknowledge, and thank patients who refer

Another way to gauge patient satisfaction is to ask new patients how they found you. If they were referred by an existing patient, that’s a good sign that your current patient is satisfied. Seek that person out and thank them for the referral. Patients like to feel acknowledged and heard.

It costs about five times more to attract a new patient than it does to keep an existing one, according to Health IT Outcomes. “It’s vital to a thriving practice to continually gather feedback about the patient experience and suggestions for improvement.” By taking a proactive approach, focusing on patient behavior rather than emotions, and acknowledging staff and patients for their contributions, you’re well on your way to increasing patient satisfaction in your practice.

Implementing a strong patient engagement strategy is an essential component of your patient satisfaction initiatives. Rendia can get you started today.