How to Improve Patient Satisfaction & Why it Matters
We’d be doing everyone an injustice by not starting this article off with Rolling Stone lyrics, so here we go: “I can't get no satisfaction, cause I try and I try and I try and I try”. Now that this catchy tune is stuck in both of our heads, let’s dive in.
Today more than ever, improving patient satisfaction has become a top goal for healthcare administrators and providers alike. The reason for patient satisfaction taking a front seat is simple: in the digital age, the level of satisfaction patients have with the healthcare they receive is directly linked to key success metrics for hospitals, specialty programs, practices and individual providers alike.
Satisfaction rates are a strong indicator of how well the physicians and staff of a hospital or specialty program are serving their patients. Whether or not you agree that there's a correlation between patient satisfaction and the quality of care being delivered, CMS and Medicare are making moves to link the two. By moving away from a fee-for-service compensation model into a fee-for-performance reimbursement model, MACRA, MIPS and other quality reporting factors include patient satisfaction measures. In addition, bonuses set-up by hospitals for physicians are increasingly being linked to satisfaction rates.
Pair this with widespread internet access, social media accounts, and rating platforms, and the accelerated impact and scope of patient happiness or dissatisfaction becomes clear. Essentially, in a competitive market where patients are more like consumers in the service industry, capturing positive feedback and patient recommendations are at the core of growth, value delivered, and financial success.
Why Patient Satisfaction Matters for Doctors and Hospitals: The Round-Up
- Word travels. Satisfied patients will share their experience with 5 others while unsatisfied patients will complain to 9 or more people.
- Online reviews and feedback put gas on the fire. With increasing numbers of patients posting about their experience and doctors online, more people are catching a glimpse of what goes on “behind the velvet curtain”. If you and your team are delivering great quality of care with satisfied patients, more people will know about it. If you’re missing the mark, these negative reviews can snowball even faster, catching the eyes and ears of even more potential patients.
- Financial success is linked to patient satisfaction. Countless factors that affect your bottom line are tied to patient success. For instance, Medicare reimbursements, positive patient growth, physician bonuses, developing fruitful partnerships etc. "It is estimated that, in USA, loss of a patient due to dissatisfaction, can result in the loss of over $200,000 in income over the lifetime of the practice.”
- Improved loyalty and patient retention. Whether you’re running a sandwich shop or a joint replacement specialty program, happy people come back and refer others. The cost of patient acquisition is high, so retaining patients by delivering care that exceeds expectation is one of the best ways to avoid high-turnover, create loyalty and extend lifetime value.
- Get accredited, market a cut above. For hospitals or practices that are accredited or earn a Center of Excellence designation, being able to legitimately market as a cut above or as the “best of the best” earns new patients. In order to be recognized by third party groups and boards, patient satisfaction and quality of service must exceed set benchmarks.
- Reduced Malpractice suits. Studies suggest that there’s a correlation between doctor-patient communication, satisfaction, and medical malpractice claims or lawsuits. The greater the satisfaction, the lower the risk for lawsuits. Up with satisfaction, down with lawsuits!
- Charge More for Better Service. Studies show that patients are willing to pay more to consult with a quality physician of their choice. As the peer-reviewed journal “Patient Satisfaction” by Bhanu Prakash states, “organizations with high customer loyalty can command a higher price without losing their profit or market share.” In other words, greater satisfaction lends care providers the ability to justify and achieve higher prices.
- You’ll be happier, too. Although boosting patient satisfaction may be an uphill battle at first, reaping the rewards of happier, more satisfied patients will make your job easier. When others are happy, you’ll be happy too.
How to Improve Patient Satisfaction
To answer this, it's important to get in the mindset of patients. Ask: What do patients want from their healthcare providers? What do patients value in health care? What do patients expect from doctors? With this in mind, here are actionable ways to boost patient satisfaction.
1. Zero-In on Non-Clinical Factors
A lot of factors go into creating a satisfying patient experience. Although many have to do with providing adequate, quality care and treatment, a lot of it boils down to interpersonal skills, likeability, communication, and you know, everything you’ve read in “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. As a healthcare provider, making an attempt to connect with patients or at the very least, allow them to feel heard, goes a long way. Having poor bedside manner negatively affects patient satisfaction, trust and retention.
After all, if a patient feels their doctor isn’t listening or is preoccupied, naturally, they’ll question whether or not this healthcare provider will deliver the great treatment. In a competitive marketplace, like joint replacement surgery, it’d be a shame to lose a patient because a care team didn’t pay enough attention, make eye contact, actively listen, and so forth. Seeing patients more as customers who have a choice where they receive treatment may help to underscore how important giving a little more of yourself is.
2. Get Staff of All Levels on the Same Page
“During a typical 3 to 4-day stay in a large hospital, a patient may interact with 50-60 employees.” Let that sink in for a minute. If you’re in a smaller practice, this number may be a bit exaggerated, but the point still rings true. Like that saying, “you’re only as strong as your weakest player”, building and maintaining a unified team, whether it’s entry-level staff to top-performing surgeons, that are service-oriented is key. Developing an organizational structure and mission that supports and encourages the delivery of top-notch patient satisfaction will help keep the head’s of all players, large and small, in the game.
For hospital administrators, adding-in incentive programs and physician bonuses that are linked to patient satisfaction can make improved service a tangible goal while the institution works toward it becoming second nature. For physician partners or members of small practices, beyond government incentives or accreditations, keeping all staff focused on the patient will boost referrals, generate hands-off online marketing, increase retention, and the list goes on.
3. Extend Reach to Beyond the Office
It’s much easier said than done to up your interpersonal game and come across as a more attentive group of staff, surgery bookers, nurses or physicians. The major reason: time. In a fast-paced, stressful environment feeling rushed and burned out can become the everyday familiar. Even at the best of times it’s impossible to share all of the information you’d like with patients. This is one reason why managing social media accounts for your practice or hospital is so great for communicating with patients, sharing more pertinent information, and building a stronger sense of connection and community.
PeerWell, the mobile PreHab and ReHab app that’s being adopted by hospital specialty programs, offers a lot of the same benefits as thriving social media accounts—greater patient engagement, communication and monitoring. However, the main difference is that PeerWell doesn’t add to clinical flow, but actually saves staff and physicians on care time. By providing patients with more attentive, around-the-clock care and guidance, PeerWell’s daily lessons boost patient satisfaction while better preparing and educating patients about their upcoming procedure. The app is customized for each hospital or doctor which means that the feelings of guidance and care received are directly linked back to that hospital and doctor, not just to PeerWell.
4. Go Beyond the HCAHPS
If you're a hospital administrator or provider at a hospital, you're likely well-acquainted with CMS' required patient satisfaction survey. HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) is a survey that aims to capture and score all inpatient experience and satisfaction in hospitals across the USA. For more than a decade, the standardized survey instrument and data collection methodology that has been used widely. The standard collection protocol keeps hospitals across the board in-check, measuring 27 items that touch on factors like: communication with doctors, responsiveness of hospital staff, cleanliness of the hospital environment, quietness of the hospital environment, and communication about medicines, discharge information and more.
In addition to dedicated reporting and collecting of the required HCAHPS satisfaction measures, think outside of the standardized box. Don't just try to satisfy patients in ways that can be linked back to how they will grade you on a fixed surgery, go above and beyond because an institution that is built around better serving patients will perform better and sustain success. If patient satisfaction becomes a true core value, it will show.
5. Become a Centre of Excellence
We’ve mentioned “Centre of Excellence” (COE) a few times throughout this post. This is because becoming COE is like a one-stop shop towards boosting patient satisfaction rates. Building a legitimate Centre of Excellence that hasn’t just adopted the title for empty marketing means putting into play a number of different factors—majority of which directly serve to better patient satisfaction.
Offering a higher quality of standardized care; creating clear cohesive leadership; enforcing an above average standard for physician’s career experience and annual caseload; having complete in-house experience; and delivering better patient education and support all help put a COE program on the map. Soaring patient satisfaction is a side effect of taking the time to strategically design a COE that engages key players in an organization, treats patients as customers, and unifies the goals of all staff member and physicians.
Got Patient Satisfaction? Here’s What’s Next
For hospitals and physicians who are sustaining positive patient satisfaction rates, the next step is to leverage them. If your organization has worked hard to earn the satisfaction of patients, why not use these positive experiences as a means to reach more people you can help? Not capturing positive ratings, feedback and testimonials is leaving massive opportunity on the table. It’s like achieving Olympic Gold behind closed doors and not telling a soul about (admittedly, this is a weak analogy. Comment below if you’re a literary wizard).
Here’s how to leverage patient satisfaction to reach more patients.
- Capture Yelp Reviews. Like it or not, people read Yelp reviews before going to restaurants, buying a car, or you guessed it, choosing a physician or hospital. Having someone in the office set-up and manage a Yelp page is a must. Building a process that encourages patients to generate review content can serve as a well-oiled machine for your healthcare practice. Email campaigns, paper handouts, and providing iPads in waiting rooms with a call-to-action to leave positive feedback are all ways to build out your testimonial library.
- Social Channel Ratings. Like capturing Yelp reviews, getting patients to rank your specialty program, hospital, or physician’s office on Facebook will help capture the attention of potential patients. Build enough written reviews, star ratings, or be tagged in enough posts, and you will begin to reap the rewards by “getting seen” by search engines, on your owned social pages, and in the newsfeeds of targeted users. Social media marketing for your care center requires little upkeep and lets the people you serve build out the testimonial content for you. Read more on running social media as a hospital or doctor’s office.
- Add Testimonials to Your Website or Blog. Kudos if you’ve got a blog! I think you can guess how we feel about blogging as a means to reach the right people! But really, before scheduling an appointment or procedure, you have to assume that patients will be doing online research. Sharing personal patient success stories and building out a dedicated testimonial section on your site (or adding a “waterfall” feature that highlights positive patient reviews!) is a great way to show off how satisfied the people you serve really are. In the digital world, optimizing testimonials is a powerful tool for building a reputable name and earning more of the “right” patients.
Are you a clinician? Are you a hospital executive or administrator? Learn more about how PeerWell’s hands-off mobile PreHab and ReHab app boosts satisfaction while giving you more time to do what you do best—treat the patients that need you.