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How to improve patient satisfaction

Last updated

10 August 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

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Customer satisfaction is essential for the success of any business. In the healthcare industry, patient satisfaction plays an even bigger role. It impacts clinical outcomes, patient retention, and medical malpractice claims.

Like customer satisfaction, patient satisfaction is derived from every touchpoint during the experience. Yet, the healthcare environment presents many challenges that can influence a patient's opinions.

When patients are in medical distress, every element of care plays a part in improving the experience. By fully understanding what patient satisfaction is and how to measure it, you can find new ways to address issues and improve patient satisfaction.

What is patient satisfaction?

Patient satisfaction is a measure of how closely a patient's experience meets their expectations. It's not always directly associated with the medical care they receive, but their whole experience. Any visit to a doctor's office or hospital is comprised of a variety of interactions that either build or undermine the patient's confidence in the care they receive.

Communication with doctors and nurses, the responsiveness of all staff members, the facility environment, and transitions of care all play into how a patient feels about their overall experience. For some patients, a pleasant environment or a doctor's bedside manner can have a bigger impact than a successful procedure.

How a patient feels about the overall experience impacts their loyalty to the organization and how likely they are to follow their medical provider’s recommendations.

What's the difference between patient satisfaction and patient experience?

Patient experience and patient satisfaction sound similar, but they're not the same thing. An experience describes events over a given period. In a healthcare setting, the patient experience encompasses every detail of the patient's care. In any medical facility, two patients can receive the exact same care, or experience, but have different levels of satisfaction.

Satisfaction comes from how a patient thinks the experience should go. Quality medical care isn't only based on precise medical diagnoses or procedures, it includes how comfortable a patient is during the encounter and their confidence in managing their health after returning home. Measuring patient satisfaction tells medical professionals whether they’re offering a positive patient experience.

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How to measure patient satisfaction

Measuring patient satisfaction accurately is vital to finding out if a facility is delivering quality care. As patient satisfaction describes how a patient feels about their care, it can only come from information supplied by the patient. This is usually collected from patient satisfaction surveys, feedback and complaints, and reviews.

What is a patient satisfaction survey?

A patient satisfaction survey is a questionnaire designed to gather information about a patient's views about the services they received in a medical facility. To develop the survey, researchers determine which aspects of the patient experience to measure and agree on which questions to ask. For accurate results, the survey must be administered to a random group of patients.

The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) is one of the most widely used patient satisfaction surveys. It was designed to assess the quality of inpatient hospital stays but has become a standard by which other surveys are developed.

Typical questions in a patient satisfaction survey

A person’s medical care depends heavily on how successfully they interact with medical facilities. A patient satisfaction survey examines the entire experience to find factors that could lead to dissatisfaction. To achieve this, questions to assess patient satisfaction can cover a wide range of subjects.

Let’s look at some examples of typical questions found in a patient satisfaction survey.

  • Based on your overall experience with our medical facility, would you recommend our organization to a friend or family member?

  • Did you encounter any issues while scheduling your appointment?

  • On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very dissatisfied and 5 being very satisfied, how would you rate your interactions with the office staff?

  • Was your wait time reasonable?

  • Were all communications with our nurses and doctors considerate?

  • Were the staff sympathetic to your needs?

  • Were you satisfied with the amount of time the doctor spent with you?

  • Were we able to answer all your questions?

  • Were you confident you could follow the discharge instructions as described by your provider?

  • Is there anything we could do to improve our services?

Best practices for patient satisfaction surveys

It's not enough to determine whether patients are satisfied with your services. Your goal is to use the information to improve the quality of patient care. How you conduct your survey is as important as the questions you ask.

Use these strategies to improve the overall effectiveness of your surveys.

Put your best foot forward

Before conducting a survey, make sure your practice is in the best shape possible. Create an environment that promotes quality care in all your processes. Inform your staff about your plans to conduct a survey and the questions that will be presented to patients.

Find the right tool for the job

Surveys can be conducted in person, over the phone, or as a written document. While phone surveys and written surveys yield similar results, written surveys are more cost-effective and make data collection easier.

Ask the right questions

Consider your goals before developing your questions. High-quality medical care is accessible and treats patients with courtesy and respect. Questions in the survey should cover the quality of medical care, accessibility of service, and the level of compassion delivered under your care.

Carefully consider word choice

Survey questions should be brief and easy to understand. Avoid vague questions (How would you rate our staff?) or those that ask two questions at once (Was your nurse empathetic and efficient?) By asking a more direct question like "How would you rate the helpfulness of our receptionist?", you can gather measurable data about specific interactions.

The role of HCAHPS

Although medical facilities may use internal systems to develop patient satisfaction surveys, there was no national standard for healthcare surveys until the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) was developed in 2002. HCAHPS is a national, standardized survey designed to produce data about patients' perspectives of medical care.

The survey is given to a random sample of adult patients between 48 hours and six weeks after being discharged from a hospital stay. The survey includes 29 questions about hospital experiences.

Questions cover the following aspects of critical care:

  • Communication with nurses and doctors

  • Responsiveness of hospital staff

  • Cleanliness and quietness of the hospital environment

  • Communication about medicines

  • Discharge information

  • Overall rating of the hospital

The survey and its results are available to the public.

Recommendations for improving patient satisfaction

The goal of every medical facility is to provide quality medical care. Improving patient satisfaction scores can improve the quality of that care. However, in an effort to achieve higher scores, it's possible to inadvertently make changes that worsen the overall care environment.

When used correctly, patient satisfaction surveys are a valuable tool for improving the quality of medical care. These recommendations can help you use the data you collect from your patient surveys effectively.

Use patient satisfaction as a measure

Although the data from your surveys will ultimately identify where you can make improvements, patient satisfaction scores must be balanced against one another.

Overall satisfaction can be impacted by multiple factors, and changing the environment to address a single issue can impact other areas of care. For example, if a facility wants to reduce waiting room times but patients feel doctors are rushed as a result, the negative impact will outweigh any positive ones.

By measuring satisfaction across all points of the patient experience, you will clearly see where to focus measures for improvement.

Evaluate entire care teams

Patient satisfaction hinges on the whole experience. Efficient surveys ask questions that unite all aspects instead of targeting specific individuals. On the other hand, surveys that target individual staff members can build resistance to the process due to negative responses. By asking questions in a way that includes the entire team, you can gather relevant data to use for improvements.

For example, the question "Did your care team show empathy for your needs?" allows a patient to take the aspects of nursing care into consideration instead of only the doctor's demeanor.

Use analytics

Healthcare facilities have the potential to conduct thousands of surveys each year. By assessing all this patient data, they can improve the patient experience beyond a single episode of care. 

Software that categorizes and analyzes the data from patient satisfaction surveys helps users understand how to use the data effectively.

When data can be analyzed by demographics, improvement goals, and other critical factors, users can uncover themes in seconds and track patterns over time. By uncovering these insights, overall care delivery becomes easier to improve.

Leverage technology

Healthcare presents a unique environment that can be more stressful than many other interactions. Medical care also requires clinical staff members to follow highly specific procedures. As a result, the stress related to wait times and other issues can become amplified.

Modern healthcare technology is a powerful tool for improving the patient experience. Interactive tools give patients more control over their care and insight into their health and treatment options. For example, remote check-in tools can reduce wait times in facilities and patient portals can allow people to access critical information as soon as it's available. 

These tools simplify processes for medical staff and provide peace of mind for patients. Streamlining processes and reducing patient stress results in improved satisfaction with the overall experience.

Improve employee engagement

Any business environment is impacted by how employees perceive their role, and healthcare is no exception. Engaged healthcare employees understand how their position affects overall patient care. This knowledge empowers them to interact with patients in ways that improve the patient experience and elevate the facility as a whole.

By analyzing employee engagement, medical facilities can ensure staff members have the resources they need to complete their duties efficiently. Routine employee satisfaction surveys can identify obstacles that complicate internal processes and affect patient care. 

The relationship between patient satisfaction and outcomes

Patient satisfaction is an indicator of how patients feel about the medical facility they depend on. However, it extends beyond the role of the organization because it impacts long-term patient outcomes.

Patient satisfaction builds a person’s confidence in the ability of medical providers to deliver effective medical care. If a patient isn't confident in their medical provider's capability, they're less likely to follow the advice and may suffer poorer health as a result.

However, when patient satisfaction scores are used for purely financial purposes, providers may devote resources to improving scores in ways that fail to address the quality of care. By using tools to analyze the data from patient satisfaction surveys, medical providers can address patient concerns in a way that improves scores and quality of care.

Although it's impossible for medical facilities to address every issue that impacts patient satisfaction, surveys play a critical role in determining areas of care that can be improved. Addressing internal issues can improve patient satisfaction and build confidence in medical processes, which ultimately improves the quality of the healthcare system as a whole.

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