In our fast-paced, technology-driven world, doctors could easily assume that patient satisfaction comes down to factors like having the shortest wait times or the newest equipment. And certainly, we’ve discussed the importance of offering tech-savvy patients what they want, from online appointment scheduling to cloud-based patient education.
But evidence shows that patient satisfaction has less to do with what you offer than with how you offer it. Providers’ behaviors and attitudes have a big impact on satisfaction, and on medical outcomes as well. The good news is that most of the following strategies don’t cost you a dime to implement. And given that it costs 90 percent less to keep current patients returning for care than it does to attract new patients, you can’t afford not to pay attention.
Emotional support = satisfied patients
Research has revealed that overall satisfaction is judged by whether patients felt their doctor provided emotional support, according to this post on KevinMD.com. One study even identified specific factors that significantly contribute to patient satisfaction. Here’s a look at some of them.
1. An empathetic approach.
According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, empathy in clinical medicine is the ability to understand the patient’s situation, perspective, and feelings, and to communicate that understanding to the patient. It’s the difference between asking, “When did you find the lump?” and saying, “That sounds frightening.” Not only does the effective use of empathy improve diagnosis, compliance, and patient satisfaction, it improves physician satisfaction as well.
2. Body language.
Sometimes the things that make the biggest difference to patients are the simplest — a smile, making eye contact, a hand on their arm. Instead of standing over patients, sit down next to or across from them.
3. Making patients feel like they matter.
Greet patients by name, and introduce yourself to any family members if they are present. But don’t make the mistake of ignoring the patient to speak only to her family or caregiver, as one doctor of an elderly patient did. Patients want to feel like they are people, not medical cases.
4. Two-way communication.
Patients want to be educated by doctors, but they also want doctors to listen and value their input. Encourage shared decision-making and don’t rush them. One study of primary care office visits found that on average, patients were interrupted after only 12 seconds of speaking.
5. A sense of humor.
Researchers found that caregivers who use humor appropriately succeed in easing patients’ anxieties and decreasing their stress. One study found that most patients were open to the use of humor by doctors if they had an existing relationship with them. And humor doesn’t necessarily mean traditional jokes — funny anecdotes from the doctor’s life outside of medicine worked well, too.
6. Practice environment.
Studies have also shown that the mood of the health care setting is important to patients. A friendly, pleasant environment helps patients feel more at ease. Research has found that hospital and medical practice design can have an impact on both staff and patients’ stress levels. There’s a trend towards soothing, nature-inspired elements, such as those found in spas.
A quick phone call a day or two after an appointment to find out how a patient’s medication is working or to share news of an upcoming patient education seminar takes just minutes but sends a powerful message to patients that you truly care about them, according to HealthIT News.
Many of these tips fall under the category of common sense. But as we know, common sense is not always common practice, writes medical educator Joan Lowery on KevinMD.com. “However, if we make it a priority to create an environment in which these common courtesies are nurtured, patient satisfaction will grow, trust toward caregivers will expand, and adherence rates will rise.”
Get additional information about how patient engagement affects overall satisfaction and find tips for how to create engaged, satisfied patients in your practice in our blog.