How Can Patient Satisfaction Surveys More Fairly Measure Physicians?


More practices and payers are tying a portion of physician pay to patient satisfaction scores. But it may come with unintended consequences.

More practices and payers are tying a portion of physician pay (nearly 25 percent according to Physicians Practice's 2013 Physician Compensation Survey) to patient satisfaction scores. But it may come with some unintended consequences.

As Practice Notes blogger Jeffrey Brunken recently wrote, "Physicians face a difficult balancing act when it comes to patient communication. One common concern among physicians is that some of the popular patient satisfaction quality surveys and physician ranking sources appear to be more about whether the patient 'liked' the physician than whether the physician provided quality care."

One of the biggest problems that patient satisfaction surveys might raise: Physicians must sometimes engage in difficult and uncomfortable discussions with patients, such as those that address weight gain, alcohol abuse, or failure to adhere to treatment recommendations. At other times, physicians must take actions that anger patients, such as refusing to prescribe a specific medication, or refusing to prematurely refill a prescription.

While these conversations and actions are done in the best interest of patients, they don't always please patients. And that may be reflected in patient satisfaction scores.

At the same time, patient satisfaction is important. Happier patients are less likely to sue their physicians, and they are more likely to form meaningful relationships with them, which can lead to improvements in treatment adherence and engagement.

So what is the best course when it comes to measuring patient satisfaction? Should it be eliminated from payment models entirely? Is there a way to create "fairer" patient satisfaction surveys? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.


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