What Can be Gained From Asking Patients for Opinions
Like all service providers, doctors seek to offer their patients the best possible care while holding down costs. But how can physicians tell whether they're meeting this goal? A growing patient list and a healthy bottom line are strong indicators. However, the only sure way to tell if your patients are satisfied is to ask them.
Patient surveys have become more prevalent in recent years. Here's what you can gain by assessing patient satisfaction:
Possible reduced risk of malpractice claims - Research has shown that satisfied patients are less likely to file malpractice claims against physicians.
Financial incentives - A growing number of managed care companies are offering financial incentives for positive responses on patient-satisfaction reviews. For example, Blue Cross of California began offering doctors bonuses for high scores on quarterly patient-satisfaction surveys. The managed-care company previously tied bonuses to cost savings.
Identify strengths - Survey feedback provides the opportunity for an organizational assessment. Identifying a practice's greatest strengths, which can range from the trustworthiness of its physicians to the cheeriness of its waiting room, provides good information for marketing material. It also allows practice managers to recognize and reward top-performing employees within the office.
Pinpoint weaknesses - The assessment may highlight areas that need improvement, including long waiting-room delays or confusing co-pay policies. These reviews can provide the impetus to make changes in procedures and refocus the practice's efforts on providing quality care to patients. Some doctors have re-designed their offices after patients reported feeling cramped in exam rooms. Other practices have used the surveys to find ways to better manage patients' expectations about how long they should wait or how much time doctors can spend with them.
Conducting the Survey
Different practices have come up with various solutions for the logistical problems of actually doing patient surveys. One way is to hire a firm to conduct it. It's not the cheapest solution, however. The cost factor is compounded by the fact that, to be effective, surveys should be conducted on a regular basis, at least once a year. Still, professionals might be more likely to glean an accurate reflection of how patients really view their doctor's office.
Some medical groups have conducted their own surveys using less scientific methods. Here are some considerations if your practice wants to get valid data from an in-house survey:
- If you use written questionnaires, don't expect a high return rate. History shows that customer-satisfaction survey response rates rarely exceed 20 percent of a mailing.
- Make sure that each question is asked in an unbiased manner -- one that doesn't suggest an answer. Allowing patients to respond anonymously also will help ensure that the practice gets useful feedback. Patients aren't likely to be honest about perceived problems if they fear the physician will learn who has critiqued them.
Here's an alternative to a written questionnaire: One way to do an inexpensive survey is to create a list of regular patients who are called on a quarterly or semi-annual basis to get their impressions of the practice's service level. These patients also can be provided with the office manager's email address so they can make unsolicited comments.
Regardless of the outcome of surveys, keep in mind that you're wasting time, money and effort if you don't use the data collected. If the survey identifies areas that need improvement, that information should be used to make changes. On the other hand, if the review turns up positive feedback, your practice may want to capitalize on those bragging rights and use the feedback to develop promotional materials.
(For more information on assessing patient satisfaction, click here to read our previous article "Beyond the Exam Room Door")