In healthcare, patient satisfaction has become an important metric that reflects the quality of care. As a result, patient satisfaction and health outcomes often go hand-in-hand. (2) Unfortunately, patients are often dissatisfied with their healthcare experience, especially in the United States.
According to a 2007 paper published in BMJ, the United States has the most dissatisfied patients compared to any other industrialized country, with the Dutch having the most satisfied patients. (9) Finding creative ways to increase patient satisfaction is important because research shows that satisfied patients are more adherent and loyal, which means they will likely get more consistent health results.
What is patient satisfaction?
It’s clear that patient satisfaction is an issue that needs to be addressed. But how exactly is it defined? Patient satisfaction is a measure of care quality and is determined by the level of satisfaction both inside and outside of the doctor’s office. (4) According to NEJM Catalyst, there are three domains of patient satisfaction that influence the patient experience:
- The delivery of essential medical care
- Treatments sought by patients and their families, which may or may not be favorable to good health
- The provider’s activities and behaviorism, which comprise compassionate care while safeguarding human dignity (7)
Why is patient satisfaction important?
In addition to improving treatment adherence and loyalty, (3) here are a few other important reasons to make patient satisfaction and a positive patient experience a priority:
- Improved patient retention and patient referrals: Research shows that if one patient is satisfied, that information can reach four others. Conversely, if one patient is unhappy, it can spread to ten others or even more if the problem is serious.
- Increased profitability: It’s clear that the loss of a patient due to dissatisfaction costs the organization money, both in the short and long term.
- Increased staff morale and professional satisfaction: When patients are happy, the entire healthcare team is happy.
- Reduced cost concerns: One hospital survey showed that nearly 70% of patients were willing to pay more if they could consult with a quality physician.
- Reduced risk of malpractice: Of course, a satisfied patient is far less likely to sue than an unhappy patient. (8)
Here are some considerations when trying to improve or even maintain a high level of patient satisfaction.
Creative ways to increase patient satisfaction
When trying to improve patient satisfaction, it may help to go back to the basics.
1. Create a welcoming environment
In order to create a positive patient experience, ensure your office and waiting room is esthetically inviting, peaceful, pleasing, and well-equipped. Remember what the famous poet Maya Angelou once said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Make an honest evaluation of how your clinic makes your patients feel the moment they enter your parking lot. (8)
2. Build positive relationships
Focus on enhancing the doctor-patient interaction—one of the most important determinants of patient satisfaction. The person answering the phone and at the front desk should also be competent, efficient, and friendly. Your staff members are the voice and face of your clinic and these impressions are critical.
Perhaps the most foundational and one of the more creative ways to improve patient satisfaction is to treat patients like customers. After all, we can all relate to what it feels like to be a customer. And we can all appreciate a positive customer experience. Through that lens, it’s also important to remember what Microsoft Founder Bill Gates once said: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest sources of learning.” (8)
3. Provide patient education
Prioritize patient education in various formats, such as handouts, newsletters, and videos. Research shows that education not only increases patient satisfaction but will also improve treatment adherence and health outcomes. (8)
4. Reduce wait times
Work on the wait time. With so many choices in healthcare, patients will often switch clinics if there is no respect for their time. (8)
5. Gather feedback
Set up systems to gain patient feedback and solve patient problems with the primary goal being that patients feel comfortable giving their feedback even when it’s negative. (8) One way to gain feedback is to rely on patient surveys. Surveys can be anonymous or ask for the patient’s name.
How to measure patient satisfaction in healthcare
Because patient satisfaction can be hard to discern and measure, patient surveys are often used. Keep in mind that you don’t want the pressure to get good ratings to lead to the delivery of bad medicine, which can and does happen. (5)
Surveys can be an effective tool to gauge patient satisfaction. To increase participation it’s important to communicate to patients how surveys can help improve or initiate change within the clinic. (10)
Patient satisfaction surveys should not be about appeasing patients or just going through the motions. Rather, they should be about building more meaningful patient-provider relationships, establishing constructive communication, and gaining authentic insight into patient perceptions about the care they received. (7)
In 2020, Medical Economics offered these eight tips for conducting patient surveys:
- Keep it simple: The survey shouldn’t take more than five minutes to complete and should focus on a single subject like their recent visit or a new service.
- Make it timely: For example, send out a post-visit survey within 24 to 48 hours.
- Ask directly: This is an opportunity to ask if staff were friendly, if it was easy to schedule their appointment, or if they liked the way they received communications (e.g., text, email, phone call).
- Focus on the data: Avoid open-ended questions; use multiple choice and “yes or no” questions so the data can be easily analyzed.
- Consider digital: It’s estimated that people prefer online surveys 30 times more than paper ones.
- Don’t avoid problem areas: These can include office staff experience, scheduling, or issues with communication. Tackle these issues head on with your survey.
- Make the necessary changes: Take the feedback you receive and use it to improve your practice.
- Follow up: After you’ve made the changes, follow up with patients to get even more feedback and to let them know you have acted on their initial feedback. (6)
The bottom line
Patient satisfaction is complex and evolving; however, it’s clear that it has become an important quality indicator that can dictate improvements in care and the overall success of the clinic. (1) If you want to know how satisfied your patients are, go to the source—your patients. Explore with authenticity and genuine interest and then act with authority. It’s a priority worth placing at the top of your clinic’s values list. You will be rewarded with engaged, happy, and loyal patients.
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- Al-Abri, R., & Al-Balushi, A. (2014). Patient satisfaction survey as a tool towards quality improvement. Oman medical journal, 29(1),3–7.
- Chen Q., Beal, E. W., Okunrinterni, V., Cerier, E., Paredes, A., Sun, S., Olsen, G., & Pawlik, T. M. (2019). The association between patient satisfaction and patient-reported health outcomes. Journal of Patient Experience, 6(3) 201-209.
- Fenton, J. J., Jerant, A. F., & Bertakis, K. D. (2012). The cost of satisfaction: a national study of patient satisfaction, health care utilization, expenditures, and mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine, 172(5), 405-411.
- Heath, S. (2016). Patient satisfaction and HCAHPS: what it means for providers. Patient Engagement HIT, May 24. https://patientengagementhit.com/features/patient-satisfaction-and-hcahps-what-it-means-for-providers
- Junewicz, A., Youngner, S. J. (2015). Patient-satisfaction surveys on a scale of 0 to 10: improving health care, or leading it astray? Hastings Cent Rep, 45(3), 43-51.
- Mazzolini, C., & Lutton, L. (2020). 8 ways to improve patient satisfaction. Medical Economics, Oct 13.
- (NEJM Catalyst team ). (2018). Patient satisfaction surveys. NEJM Catalyst, January 1. https://catalyst.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/CAT.18.0288
- Prakash B. (2010). Patient satisfaction. J Cutan Aesthet Surg, 3(3):151-155.
- Roehr B. (2007). US has highest dissatisfaction with health care. BMJ, 335(7627):956.
- Schöpf, A. C., Vach, W., Jakob, M., & Saxer, F. (2019). Routine patient surveys: Patients’ preferences and information gained by healthcare providers. PloS one,14(8), e0220495.