Caring Communication Can Boost Patient Satisfaction Quotient

Thursday, October 13th, 2011
This post was written by Patricia Donovan

“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” Jack Welch’s words on customer satisfaction may not strictly apply to healthcare; after all, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric wouldn’t wish a hospital stay on anyone, no matter how elevated the quality of care.

However, in a value-driven environment, high marks in patient satisfaction are expected and rewarded, both by prospective patients seeking care at reputable facilities and by payors formulating reimbursement strategies.

To make the grade in patient satisfaction, healthcare organizations must clear the communication channels between providers and patients, say respondents to the 2011 Healthcare Intelligence Network survey on Improving Patient Satisfaction and the Healthcare Consumer Experience. That means everything from beefing up call management to increasing the number of touches while a patient is waiting for a doctor.

“Patient satisfaction might sound like a soft outcome, but patients get very dissatisfied when they are lying in an ED for long periods of time,” notes Toni Cesta, Lutheran Medical Center senior vice president of operational efficiency and capacity management.

“The most dissatisfying thing for patients in EDs is the time from triage until they are seen by a physician. That is the typical time in which the patient will walk out of the ED — if they have been triaged, put in a room and are waiting for a long period of time to be seen by the physician. If you can reduce that time from triage to seen by the physician in concert with ED leadership, that can help reduce the number of patients who walk out without being evaluated by a physician.”

So important is patient satisfaction that it has become a benchmark in its own right — to measure the success of healthcare initiatives from case management to accountable care organizations (ACOs). Beginning in April 2012, the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) will award extra credit to patient-centered medical homes (PCMHs) that submit CAHPS results twice a year.

Organizations preparing to join or transition to an ACO should immediately assess their patient satisfaction quotient, suggests Greg Mertz, senior project director with the Healthcare Strategy Group.

“One of the [ACO] obligations that is going to be placed on at least primary care providers is patient education, so if they haven’t spent a whole lot of time on patient compliance, or on patient satisfaction, that’s [going to be] a real learning curve issue for them…The government has said that it’s up to the physician to tell the patient that they are in an ACO. They’re going to have to convince [the patient] on no other basis than it makes good sense for your health, that you should really work with us to better manage your care.

“And since part of the evaluation of ACO shared savings is going to be based on patient input and patient satisfaction scores, [PCPs] are going to have to do it so that the patient accepts the value and is willing to give them good grades. A lot of physician behaviors are going to have to change; not that many have formal patient feedback loops at this point. It’s a different culture.”

(Excerpted from 2011 Benchmarks in Patient Satisfaction Strategies: Improving the Healthcare Consumer Experience.)

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