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The Patient Satisfaction Survey: A Diagnostic Tool

The Patient Satisfaction Survey: A Diagnostic Tool

Knowledge is power. Businesses around the globe survive on information, and when it comes to the business of practicing medicine, your practice is no different. What is the best way to market your practice? Who and where are your customers? How can you get new customers? How satisfied are the customers you already have? The focus of this article will be on the last question.

It is a common business axiom that it takes five times the effort to gain new customers when compared to retaining your existing customers. Granted, a successful medical practice retains ‘customers’ through the familiarity and loyalty to the physician, but the concept bears examination. Obviously, a good physician/patient relationship is a critical element of a successful practice, yet the fact that your patients do not complain does not necessarily mean they are satisfied. One of the best methods, business-wise, to retain your customer base is to ensure that their experience with your practice is a positive one. The most efficient method of doing that is a patient satisfaction survey.

It may surprise you that a great number of complaints to professional licensing boards do not revolve around specific 'practice-based' issues. Rather, many complaints tend to be based on 'client-expectation' issues. Taking this into account, it would be safe to say that satisfied patients tend not to complain. Additionally, if your practice can meet your patients' expectations, then your patients will continue their relationship with your practice, recommend your practice to friends and colleagues, and perhaps even think twice before litigating in the unfortunate event of an adverse medical outcome. The best method to gauge your patients' opinion of their experience is to ask them, and the most efficient method of achieving that is by administering a properly constructed and thoroughly analyzed patient satisfaction survey.

A common objection to the patient satisfaction survey is cost. However, if your practice is a member of medical malpractice insurance organization, the administration and analysis of a patient satisfaction survey may be a member service, available to your practice at no additional cost. If this is not available through your existing coverage, there is always the option of an independent consulting firm. Many will work with your practice to design and analyze a survey. Many practices fear that additional costs might be incurred via the staff time necessary to distribute and collect the survey. The reality is that the costs of patient satisfaction survey are minor when compared to the gains, especially in the area of potential litigation. One last concern might be the reliability of the outcome of the analysis of the survey. Rest assured, though, as a comprehensive survey can be a very powerful and dependable tool, and it will provide true insight into the level of satisfaction your patients are feeling

The key to assessing the patient's perception of the practice is to keep it simple. Practices should have three general goals when they interact with patients: Provide quality healthcare, make care accessible, and to treat patients with courtesy and respect. Therefore, survey questions should cover these three specific areas: quality, access, and interpersonal issues. It is important to note that the ultimate goal of patient satisfaction surveys is not to assess whether or not the patient received thorough medical treatment. The goal is to ascertain the patient’s perception of the practice  and assess the size of the gap between their initial expectations and their perceived quality of the actual visit.

Knowing whether or not the patients overall level of satisfaction was positive or negative can have serious impact on the 'practice of the practice,' and the only way to take advantage of this knowledge is to actually address the issues raised by the results of the survey. The knowledge of the patient’s opinion of his experience in your office is invaluable. It is, in many ways, just as important to the success of the practice as a correct diagnosis is to the health of the patient. If used properly, the patient satisfaction survey can truly serve as a diagnostic tool for the practice

Author Stephanie Cuomo, RN, is a Senior Risk Management & Patient Safety Specialist for the Cooperative of American Physicians, Inc. (CAP), established in 1975, offers medical professional liability protection and risk management services to nearly 12,000 of California's finest physicians. In 2013, CAP organized CAPAssurance, a Risk Purchasing Group, to bring liability insurance coverage to member hospitals, health care facilities, and large medical groups.

 
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