Patient satisfaction is more important than ever. It’s increasingly being recognized as a key component in how patients choose providers, whether patients have positive outcomes, and how practices and hospitals are reimbursed. Health care organizations are looking to leaders from the hospitality industry such as The Ritz-Carlton for insights on improving the patient experience.

Cleveland Clinic is one example of a health care institution that takes patient satisfaction seriously. Approximately 190,000 patients per year complete the hospital’s Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey. The results are published anonymously on the hospital’s web site for all to see.

Cleveland Clinic explains its reasons for this transparency: “We know that the physician-patient relationship is a critical element toward achieving trust, satisfaction, and positive outcomes. For this reason, we are compelled to offer our patients and our community meaningful feedback offered from prior patients to help them choose a physician.”

Here’s what you need to know about patient satisfaction surveys, and the factors that truly influence patients’ experience in your practice.

How data drives improvement

“Patient satisfaction surveys are no longer ‘nice-to-have;’ well-run practices must use surveys to identify both strengths and weaknesses in the patient experience,” writes Johanna Epstein at PhysiciansPractice.com.

Doctors may not have an accurate perception of their own behaviors, and may be more willing to change them when they receive specific feedback from a patient’s perspective. “A physician may believe, for instance, that she has an excellent rapport with her patients. Yet when shown data that indicates a majority of her patients complain, ‘she doesn’t look me in the eye,’ she will likely remedy the issue,” states Epstein.

Most health care providers currently use surveys developed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which include CAHPS as well as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS). CMS also has other surveys specific to patient satisfaction in home health, hospice, and other areas of health care.

While a survey such as HCAHPS “does provide important insights into the patient experience, it does not assess all of the important aspects of that experience,” notes health care consultants McKinsey & Company. “Furthermore, it was not designed to provide the level of detail needed for hospitals to link patient satisfaction with business performance.” McKinsey recommends taking a comprehensive approach to measuring patient satisfaction, including both clinical and nonclinical factors. Here is a chart the company put together showing factors that patients indicated were important to their satisfaction—some are measured by standardized surveys and some are not.

Why happiness and satisfaction are not the same

It’s important to recognize that patients’ happiness and satisfaction with their care are two different things. Likewise, while the terms patient satisfaction and patient experience are often used interchangeably, “in reality, they are intended to be different,” points out Trina E. Dorrah, M.D., the author of Physician’s Guide to Surviving CGCAHPS & HCAHPS.

“For example, if you diagnose Mr. Thomas with diabetes, he won’t be happy, but he can still be satisfied with the overall clinic experience,” Dorrah writes at KevinMD.com. She explains how standardized outpatient surveys such as the CG-CAHPS (Clinician and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) try to differentiate the care experience from the patient’s emotions. “This is helpful because it’s easier to improve an experience.”

Doctors should also accept that even when using standardized surveys, measuring patient satisfaction is not an exact science. Some reports show that factors as seemingly insignificant as paint color and the type of scrubs you wear can affect patient satisfaction and perception of care. Surveys of hospital patients have found that what patients say is important to them and may not correlate with how satisfied they actually were with their inpatient stay.

“For example, most participants said that the outcome achieved was the strongest determinant of their satisfaction with care. However, empathy from nurses turned out to have a greater impact on actual satisfaction levels,” reports McKinsey & Company. Empathy was also a key theme at this year’s Patient Experience Summit in Cleveland, where presenters from the hospitality industry shared lessons for health care providers on how to better care for patients.

What you can control

Of course you can’t please every patient, but you can focus on the factors you have the most control over. Dorrah lists these as among the most relevant questions for providers on standardized surveys:

  • Did this provider explain things in a way that was easy to understand?
  • Did this provider listen carefully to you?
  • Did this provider give you easy-to-understand information about these health questions or concerns?
  • Did this provider seem to know the important information about your medical history?
  • Did this provider show respect for what you had to say?
  • Did this provider spend enough time with you?

 

We believe that many of these issues can be addressed with effective patient education. High-quality visual materials that are easy to understand and access online help patients understand their care and save doctors time. Research has shown that when used appropriately, technology can enhance the patient experience. And a recent survey found that 58 percent of patient respondents said that technology positively impacts their overall experience, especially when it’s “used collaboratively to educate or explain.”

To find out more about the role of technology and patient education in improving patient satisfaction, contact us today.