Are your patients satisfied? If you are providing them with quality medical care and you don’t make them wait too long for an appointment, you may think so. But your patients may feel otherwise. In fact, patients report that satisfaction has little to do with the actual care received, but rather with how the doctor made them feel. In an age of online doctor ratings and patient-satisfaction surveys, that should be a wake-up call to care providers. Here are some steps you can take to improve patient satisfaction in your practice.
Start with the basics.
The average patient appointment lasts 15 minutes or less. There may be nothing you can do about that, but you can make those 15 minutes count. Sometimes the things that make the biggest difference in patient satisfaction are the simplest. Make eye contact, greet the patient by name, and really listen to why they are there—don’t rush them. One study of primary-care office visits found that on average, patients were interrupted after only 12 seconds of speaking.
Use computers carefully.
That same study found that frequently, computers were responsible for the interruptions. With most doctors using three screens in their daily work, technology can hurt communication with patients if it’s not used mindfully. Generally speaking, patients report that tablets are less intrusive than desktop or laptop computers in the exam room.
Handle the wait.
Speaking of patients’ perceptions, what is their first impression of your practice? Is your waiting room appealing and comfortable? Often, simple changes can make a big difference. And while no one likes to wait, studies show that patients’ perception of the wait actually matters more than the actual time spent waiting. Let patients know their time is important to you and allow them to be productive while they wait. Offering Wi-Fi and high-quality patient education videos is a good place to start.
Be aware of surveys.
Standardized patient satisfaction surveys such as CG-CAHPS (Clinician and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) are increasingly being used by various organizations, including Medicare, to assess your patients’ experience with their doctor visits. Questions include:
- Did this provider listen carefully to you?
- Did this provider give you easy-to-understand information about your health questions or concerns?
- Did this provider spend enough time with you?
Health care providers that track patient-satisfaction scores and respond to the feedback report that their efforts are having positive results. Georgia- based WellStar Health System saw the number of patients reporting that doctors always communicated well jump to 86.2 percent in January 2013 from 77.5 percent in November 2012, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.
Obviously, communication with their doctors is very important to patients — no interruptions, no medical-ese, just clear, relevant information about their conditions and treatments. Consider using visual aids to help explain complex medical info and facilitate shared decision-making. Studies show most people retain information better when it’s presented visually, rather than via oral or written instructions alone.
Good communication not only improves patient-satisfaction scores. It reduces the risk of costly, or even deadly, outcomes. Research shows that when doctors don’t listen to patients, they miss important health cues and misdiagnose illness. And patients who don’t understand their doctors’ instructions don’t follow them, leading to preventable hospitalizations, complications, and poor outcomes — even lawsuits. A breakdown in physician-patient communication is cited in more than 40 percent of malpractice suits.
Improving patient satisfaction in your practice doesn’t have to be difficult. Start by listening, looking patients in the eye, and go from there.
For more information about how practices are using technology and patient education to improve patients’ experiences and results, contact us today.