How to Make the Most out of Patient Satisfaction Surveys

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Monday, June 13th, 2016

Patient Satisfaction SurveysSurveys requested by a practitioner’s office as well those administered by hospitals, gauge the perceived level of care received by the end user, the patient. Some surveys may be required to ensure that a level of care is received. Others are solely for the discretionary use of the physician or healthcare facility. However, a benchmark report issued by the Medical Group Management Association, (MGMA) found that almost 80% of the practices the group considered to be “better-performing”, had implemented satisfaction surveys to their patients.

As both health insurers and the government are increasingly relying on customer satisfaction indicators to evaluate provider performance, it is believed that in the near future surveys will be required by law. Today, implementing suggestions gleaned from patient satisfaction surveys can assist medical practices and facilities to meet current and future patient care requirements.

How Doctors Can Determine Their Practice’s Effectiveness

This means that survey questions must also be substantive, that is to have value for the patient as well the surveyor. Before a survey is prepared, consider how practitioners will react to negative patient responses. If the practice or facility is not prepared to implement changes, MGMA recommends that the surveys do not include questions that may elicit a negative response. If improving patient care is the goal, be aware that in limiting patient responses, that this action may also dilute the value of the patient satisfaction surveys.

The most common topics covered in patient satisfaction surveys include:

  • The patient’s ease of access to care
  • Quality of the care that the patient received
  • Coordination of the patient’s care
  • How confident was the patient in the care provider(s)
  • What was the patient’s experience in making appointments

Responses to the questions listed above can enlighten a practitioner to the perceived effectiveness of his or her practice overall. For example, while the doctor’s focus may have been limited to diagnosis and treatment, patient surveys can underscore needed changes to the office environment specifically the reception area and waiting room. Also should a large percentage of patients voice issues in making appointments, then the staff and office equipment requires scrutiny to determine how to improve this delivery system’s effectiveness.

Another area that may have gone unnoticed by a practitioner is the perceived quality of care as evidenced by the age of their diagnostic equipment and that used for treatment. If it is more than 10 years old, patient perception could reveal that they question the level of care they are receiving. Is the older equipment treating patients as effectively as newer, more technically advanced equipment? Could this factor influence patients to change to a practitioner using newer equipment?

Still other responses could indicate a preference for a practitioner who is part of a group practice. A majority of similar responses could direct the future of a given doctor’s practice. Should he or she expand and bring in additional physicians? Practitioner patient satisfaction surveys may also be a precursor to a patient paradigm shift. Taking note of a range of responses indicating a preference for more doctors at the same location, could influence the future of a doctor’s practice and the industry as a whole.

How Hospitals Determine their Overall Patient Care Effectiveness

Practitioner survey content will differ from those requested in patient satisfaction surveys administered by healthcare facilities. Patients who have undergone surgery or who have recuperated in a hospital or healthcare facility, have likely received a HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) survey shortly after being discharged. H-caps, as these surveys are commonly known, are the first national standards for collecting and publicly reporting patient experience information. The results from these surveys allow valid comparisons across local, regional and national hospitals.

H-caps’ content has been influenced by three goals: to produce objective data about patient care perspectives; to make the survey results public thereby creating incentives for hospitals to improve their quality of care, and public reporting to increase transparency therefore enhancing the facilities’ accountability.

The H-cap survey features up to 32 questions in a standardized format. Of these H-caps contain questions that focus on the patient’s perspectives on care which encompass the following key topics:

  • Physician communication
  • Nurse communication
  • Hospital staff responsiveness
  • Pain management
  • Communication about medicines
  • Discharge information
  • Hospital cleanliness
  • Hospital noise level
  • Transition of care
  • Patient recommendations

Mindful that some patients may not be able to respond to a printed survey, the H-caps may be administered:

  • In print form sent via the Post Office
  • By telephone
  • Mail, with a telephone follow up
  • Active Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

Survey results are tabulated and published on the Hospital Compare website. This is intended a means of comparison on the local, regional, and national levels. Its purpose is threefold:

  • To gauge consumer care perceptions.
  • To provide incentives to further improve the quality of care.
  • To enhance accountability in health care by increasing its transparency.

Public awareness of how their local hospital is perceived can have a positive or negative impact on a care facility’s reputation, and can have other ramification as well. For example, hospitals and other healthcare facilities rely on government and other sources of financing to underwrite some of their operating costs. A less than optimal perception by their patients requires immediate investigation and remediation.

The future of patient satisfaction surveys is projected to become more regulated as quality care administration has become vital to a hospital’s reputation and standing. It is anticipated by MAGMA that in coming decades that local, state and even national governmental agencies will require patient satisfaction surveys as a means to determine grants and funding.

This suggests the value in beginning or continuing the practice of administering surveys today as a means to improving the quality of patient care. This action will place practitioners and healthcare facilities in better standing as care providers under more intense and regulated scrutiny in the future.

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