October 21, 2014
Focus on Patient Satisfaction: Why it Matters

In business, delivering exceptional customer service is vital for success. For example, companies such as Zappos and Southwest Airlines have built their successes and reputations by delivering outstanding customer experiences. Hospitals and health systems, on the other hand, have been able to escape from such a dependency. However, things are changing. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), CMS has decided to change this by tying Medicare reimbursements to patient satisfaction scores and, now, patient satisfaction has become a growing priority for hospitals nationwide. But what exactly do patients want, besides having their conditions treated? According to a 2004 Harris poll, patients valued the interpersonal skills of their doctors as much as if not more than their technical skills.

But how do hospitals define patient satisfaction? Apparently there is no clear consensus what patient satisfaction means to them, with 34% defining it as being “patient-centered care” and 29% defining it as “an orchestrated set of activities meaningfully customized for each patient.” Many hospitals think patient satisfaction is all about keeping patients happy; they are missing the point, because patient satisfaction should also be about a hospital’s philosophy about delivery of care. Unfortunately, doctors spend more time improving their medical knowledge than improving their approach to patient care.

Besides the possibility of losing out on average $500,000 to $850,000 annually due to low patient satisfaction scores, why else should patient satisfaction scores matter to hospitals? Well, it would seem like patient satisfaction is intricately linked to patient outcomes. Patients who are more satisfied are more likely to adhere to treatment plans and maintain their relationships with their healthcare providers. This essentially translates to lower readmission rates, reduced lengths of stay, and increased savings for the hospitals.

Furthermore, hospitals with higher numbers of satisfied patients are more likely to have greater patient volumes compared to hospitals with less-satisfied patients. People are more likely to recommend a hospital to family and friends if their experiences were good. Such word-of-mouth advertising is important for healthcare providers, as they generally do not advertise. Also, patients with bad experiences are far more likely to tell more people about their experience than ones who had good experiences. Thus, it’s important to minimize these negative experiences. In fact, it costs a practice more money each time a patients leaves for a competitor. Studies have also indicated that doctors who receive the lowest satisfaction scores from their patients are the ones at the highest risk of being named in lawsuits.

So how can hospitals improve their standing with their patients? One key driver of patient satisfaction is that there needs to be commitment from the leadership to improving patient satisfaction. Programs need to be in place to help physicians and nurses improve their bedside manners. Secondly, staff and providers need to be fully engaged, and communication is the key here. Patients would like to be acknowledged; simply greeting them as you enter their room sets the right tone for rest of your interaction with them. Next, introduce yourself. Give them your name and your specialty. This is then followed by explaining to them, step by step, in accessible language, what is going to happen and how the procedure is going to last. Finally, spend sometime answering their questions, and thank the patient before leaving their room.

Costs of healthcare are increasing at an alarming rate. For medical practices to stay viable, they have to maximize their resources. There are simple solutions to improve patient satisfaction scores. All a practice needs to do is to listen and take heed of what their patients have to say.