Being sued by a patient—no matter if the case is won, lost, or settled—is one of the most stressful (and expensive) events a physician can experience. Unfortunately, 42 percent of physicians will go through a malpractice lawsuit at some point in their career; and its impact often lingers for years.
Studies show that physicians going through a malpractice suit experience shock, outrage, dread, anxiety, physical illness, and depression. These feelings are pretty much universal. Ninety five percent of physicians experience emotional distress during the litigation process.
Needless to say, avoiding a malpractice suit is important to physicians across all specialties. Fortunately, there are ways to gauge where you stand. Research shows that there is a distinct correlation between patient satisfaction and the risk of being sued for malpractice. Knowing how patients rate you as a physician is a proven way to predict the risk of being sued—and gives you a chance to reduce that risk before a lawsuit is ever filed.
In order to avoid being sued by an unhappy patient, you must find ways to know which patients are most likely to sue you and how to turn things around.
Measuring Patient Satisfaction
Before you can even start trying to alleviate patient dissatisfaction, you need to identify which patients are unhappy. So what are the most effective ways to know where you stand with patients?
• Send regular surveys. Patient surveys are very accurate (around 94 percent accurate according to one study) at reflecting how patients feel about the quality of care received at a practice. That means it is a no-brainer to send out surveys to patients on a consistent basis. Send surveys within 24 hours to 48 hours of a visit as well as between visits for the best reach.
• Track your “net promoter” score. In addition to sending full-length surveys, try sending a simple one-question survey after each visit—the likelihood of that patient recommending you to their friends and family. This scale-based response helps provide a quick picture of patients’ satisfaction and loyalty. Since healthcare is an industry that is very reliant on referrals and recommendations, understanding what your net promoter score is can help you know where you stand with patients.
• Conduct focus groups/patient interviews. If you are consistently getting poor survey results or low net promoter scores, consider inviting small groups of individuals to the office for more in-depth conversations. These visits can shed light on issues you had never even considered. Always offer an incentive to patients to participate in these interviews.
Improving Patient Satisfaction
The question remains: What do you do if you discover that your patient satisfaction levels are lower than they should be? Fortunately, there are a few tried and true methods that are statistically proven to improve patients’ happiness with their practice.
1. Reduce long wait times. Waiting times rank consistently as the number one most aggravating factor patients face when visiting their provider. The results of a long wait, according to a joint SERMO and Software Advice survey:
• 23 percent of patients will leave without seeing the physician;
• 22 percent will tell friends and family to not visit that practice; and
• Nearly 20 percent will switch to a new doctor.
2. Let the sunshine in. Light should fill your office both figuratively and literally. Physical sunshine has been proven to improve mood, reduce depression, and make patients happier. So throw those blinds open. If your building does not provide a lot of natural light, go ahead and add warm lighting in the form of lamps.
Just as you should bring in physical light, you and your employees should exude emotional sunshine as well. Smile. No matter how tired, frustrated, or stressed you are, make the time to look patients in the eyes and make them feel welcome. This small thing can make a huge difference in the patient experience.
3. Improve communication. Effective patient-clinician communication is crucial to a healthy patient-provider relationship. And the strength of that relationship is one of the biggest indicators of high patient satisfaction. Studies show that one of the key breakdowns of this relationship is a lack of effective communication.
Most physicians pride themselves on their ability to communicate in the exam room (if you are not one of those, consider taking a formal communication class to improve your one-on-one skills). Where communication breakdowns more often occur is after a patient leaves the office. This means it is critical to continue to reach out to patients between visits via newsletter, social media, text message, or snail mail.
Avoiding a malpractice lawsuit is of utmost importance to practices across the nation. By effectively assessing and improving patient satisfaction levels, you can significantly reduce the chance you face a patient in the courtroom.
Josh Weiner is the chief operating officer at Solutionreach. He has deep experience assisting healthcare and technology companies scale their operations and access new markets. Follow him at @jfweiner1.