Avoiding Patient Satisfaction Measurement Pitfalls

January 8, 2012

Measuring alone is meaningless if you don't institute the right approach to implementation and manage patient satisfaction on an ongoing basis.

Practices that aren't in touch with their patients will find themselves struggling with slowly-eroding volume through patient attrition and lost referral activity. It's more critical than ever to have a robust patient satisfaction program in place. There are a lot of great approaches to collecting patient feedback today - from standard paper surveys to robust, near-real time electronic tools.

But collecting the feedback is just the beginning. As you plan how you will implement the feedback into your practice, here are some measurement traps to avoid.

1. Measurement without action. This is the first and most important trap to tackle. Too often practices invest significant time and financial resources in patient satisfaction measurement tools without an equal amount of resources placed on how that data will be used in the practice. Measurement without a disciplined approach to action planning is like running expensive diagnostics without a follow-up treatment protocol. Gather a team together within your practice to be your “patient satisfaction management” team. Have them design both short- and long-term ways that the data will be acted on. Give that team clear authority in the practice to make systemic changes that will improve scores and communicate that authority in staff meetings so everyone is on the same page.

2. Expecting patient satisfaction metrics to move quickly. The scores you receive are a combination of reality and perception - both current and historical. Advertisers will tell you that it takes time to change consumer perceptions; it's no different with patients. Even if you made exactly the right change to impact your scores, it will take some time for your patients to a) experience the change personally based on how frequently they visit and experience the improvement; b) recognize that something is different; and c) start to give your practice credit for the improvement. The timing varies depending on what you improve, and the only way to speed the impact is through patient communication about what's changed.

3. Annual survey metrics as the only measure of progress. There is a concept in the customer research field known as “convergent validity.” The concept applied to patient satisfaction means that when multiple indicators are pointing to the same pain point that pain point is more likely your underlying cause. For this reason, it's beneficial to measure your patient experience more than one way. Combine your quantitative survey data with more qualitative patient interviews or verbatim comments. Another approach is to institute a mystery patient program, much like mystery shoppers.

4. Tying scores to compensation. On the surface, it seems to make sense to tie something as important as patient satisfaction to compensation, but this can be a policy that drives the wrong results if not implemented correctly. Companies and medical practices alike that are advanced in managing the patient experience make this big decision, but they do it cautiously. The key to doing this well is that the individuals who will be compensated by their patient satisfaction scores have to fully understand the mechanics of making improvements to the scores. That usually means you need to run through several cycles of patient satisfaction scores and be able to make cause and effect connections between score improvements and the actions that were taken. The best practice in this area is to first tie your scores to your annual/semi-annual performance management review process. Make score improvements a line item on how their job performance is evaluated, without a direct impact on compensation. As your practice matures with patient satisfaction management and people can relate the scores to what they do, you can graduate in the more advanced approach of compensation impact.

Patient satisfaction measurement and management is critical to keeping your patients and gaining more referrals. Measuring alone, though, is meaningless if you don't institute the right approach to implementation and manage patient satisfaction on an ongoing basis.

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