Patient satisfaction is one of the main areas of focus for most, if not all, patient-centric health organizations. A 2013 HealthLeaders Media survey concluded that more than half of providers place patient satisfaction among their top three priorities. In 2020, patient experience and satisfaction are the number one priorities for 70 percent of providers in the U.S. According to the Journal of Cutaneous and Ascetic Surgery, one unsatisfied patient may cause more than $200,000 loss in hospital income, over the lifetime of a practice.
Nowadays the term is widely used, but its definition remains vague. Simply put, it is a measure of how well a patient is treated in a medical institution. Though patient satisfaction is an indicator of care quality, it also, of course, reflects how happy the patient is with the care he receives. Medical institutions commonly use the HCAHPS survey to score patient satisfaction and improve their performance. It is often referred to as the gold standard for surveying patient experience.
Though patient satisfaction evaluates care quality, many care providers still doubt that it is a reliable indicator when it comes to health outcomes. On the one hand, satisfied patients tend to be more engaged in their treatment and follow prescriptions with more attention. When the connection between physicians and patients is tighter, patients tend to trust their physicians more. On the other hand, existing surveys invite misinterpretation because some questions can be answered any number of ways depending on the patient’s understanding. Thus, patient feedback is often not credible enough, as patients lack the requisite knowledge for an adequate response. Their judgments are often affected by factors that are not directly associated with the quality of care. For example, patients may expect a certain drug to be prescribed regardless of its disadvantages. Or patients may face personal issues (such as fighting with a family member) during their stay in the hospital, which will affect their mood and care perception. The industry needs conclusive research that proves a strong correlation between the degree of patient satisfaction and health outcomes.
Patient Satisfaction in Healthcare
Regulatory agencies see patient satisfaction as directly impacting care quality. The patient experience of treatment constitutes 25 percent of a hospital’s value-based purchasing (VBP) score. The score evaluates the performance of a hospital as per a program initiated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in 2016. Depending on the score, the hospital may expect a bonus or penalty. The IHI Triple Aim, an industry-guiding framework aiming to improve health systems performance, also includes the patient experience of care.
Reimbursement is not the only factor that motivates care providers to focus on patient satisfaction. As the scores are public, patient satisfaction rates affect provider’s reputation, resulting in more (or less) visitors. Moreover, people tend to pay more for specialists with a better reputation and higher rates.
Despite skepticism among providers that better patient satisfaction and experience cause better health outcomes, they agree that patient surveys help to detect care gaps and find new improvement strategies. Surveys also reflect how changes in practice impact the patient experience, allowing providers to find a balance between innovative treatment and patient happiness.
Improving patient satisfaction can benefit care providers in many ways. First of all, it ensures quick publicity. A satisfied patient will likely share his experience with 5 friends, while the unsatisfied patient will complain to 9 people. The internet adds fuel to the fire. Online reviews and ratings are visible for thousands of people who are potential patients.
Secondly, high patient satisfaction enhances financial success. A Press Ganey study concluded that hospitals with patient satisfaction 90 percent or higher increases the number of patients by 30 percent per year (around 1,382 patients). High satisfaction scores also improve patient retention, while publicized low scores cause patient loss. On average, hospitals that have patient satisfaction rates 10 percent or less lose 17 percent of patients. According to the Chicago Rush University Medical Center, higher satisfaction rates may increase annual revenues by up to $2.3 million.
Improving Patient Satisfaction
It is more advantageous to consider patient satisfaction as a measure for care quality improvements rather than health outcomes. Satisfaction assessments allow providers to achieve a balance between care improvements and patient happiness (in other words, the negative impact that these changes may potentially impose on patients). For example, reducing the length of stay in labor and delivery may negatively affect patients because they feel more stressed and rushed to discharge.
Employee engagement is one of the most important factors affecting the scores of patient satisfaction. A 2015 survey of employee engagement conducted by the Advisory Board Company showed that every 1 percent increase in engagement results in a 0.33 percent increase in the hospital rating, while patients’ readiness to recommend the hospital grows by 0.25 percent.
The next factor, which is not less important, is leveraging innovations. It means the adoption of: online scheduling to reduce wait time, interactive tools to make wayfinding easier for patients, platforms for online communication, patient education and follow-up reminders, etc.
Solve.Care is a leader of such all-in-one solutions addressing common pain points and improving patients’ experience. “The relationship with Solve.Care completely aligns with ACN’s Quadruple Aim to improve the health of our population, reduce the cost of care, improve the patient experience and drive provider satisfaction,” said Dr. David Hanekom, President for North America and Chief Medical Officer of Solve.Care, former CEO of the Arizona Care Network. “The Care.Wallet brings focus to our most important care metrics and gives our providers a solution that is easier and better than the outdated and expensive legacy technologies used in their practices. It removes their pain points and lets them get back to doing more of what they are trained to do – deliver great healthcare.”
Other strategies that may considerably improve patient satisfaction include: smiling and making eye contact, keeping the hospital clean, and improving its atmosphere. Patients usually focus on 3 key areas when it comes to satisfaction rates: environment, communication and scheduling. While online scheduling options can be implemented using technologies, improving patient communication with the staff requires more staff engagement. Better communication means showing more respect to a patient and treating him as a person not a number (one of the most frequent complaints expressed by patients during surveys). Reducing loud noises, especially at night, and softening harsh lighting will contribute to a congenial environment.