A critical element missing from conversations on healthcare reform is how physicians are actually going to improve patient satisfaction.
As part of the new healthcare reform sweeping its way into law is the statute that calls for a change in how Medicare will base reimbursements to hospitals. Starting in October 2012, Medicare will start using patient satisfaction scores to determine part of the reimbursements for hospitals. Let me say that again: Reimbursements will be tied to patient satisfaction, not just outcome. Please read this brief overview for more details about this process.
As doctors, we are very opinionated about the need to reform the healthcare system for the better. But a critical element that seems to be missing from these many conversations is how we are actually going to improve patient satisfaction. We like to focus on issues such as access and cost and use terms such as “patient-centered” care. In reality though, we need a simple set of tools to help us focus on what truly matters to patients. Again, if a patient feels betrayed or not listened to or just plain unhappy with her care, she can lower the amount of reimbursement money coming back to a hospital regardless of her outcome.
This is not an easy solution to solve by any means. But we must recognize that we as physicians are not very good at pleasing our customers - patients. Most of us practice some form of paternalistic medicine and as a result we tend to annoy and even piss off our patients when we interact from this vantage point. I know, we are professionals and we go through a ton of training and put up with a lot to even be able to help the way we can. Clearly, though, something is not synching with our patients - survey after survey reveals that patients are not as trusting in their doctors and feel slighted at times.
My point here is not to be at the center of this heated discussion, but to provide some simple and clean ideas to think about. We must engage our patients and make them feel great even when they only feel so-so. Here are some ideas about how to accomplish that:
Embrace Integrative Medicine: Whether you like it or not, your patient is spending their money, time, and energy on supplements, chiropractic care, massage, acupuncture, etc. Why? Because “alternative” forms of healing really do help patients not only “feel” better, but do better from a clinical perspective. Doctors who are able to incorporate some form of integrative medicine into their practice will get higher patient satisfaction scores than doctors who do not. Remember, patients are spending their money in that realm, so why not become a part of it?
Practice connecting with your patients: We spend a lot of time reviewing protocols and guidelines and new drug indications, but almost no time practicing how to connect better with our patients. If you dedicated just five minutes to10 minutes a day on sharpening your communication skills, you would be that much better of a physician in the eyes of your patients. This is a no-brainer and every doctor would do well to practice engaging in positive body language, attentive listening, and learning techniques to connect with patients deeply and quickly.
Master the social media arenas: Patients love spreading word about how caring Doctor X was or how neat it is that Doctor Y has a blog. Create a Facebook Fan Page, start making videos on You Tube, and write your first blog post. These are all necessary tools in today’s modern environment of social communication.
Yes, the lines will get blurred when you start treating your patients like customers and not just patients. You will not only be the professional physician that they come to for advice, but you will also become their partner and mentor in life.
We need to wake up to this new reality that patients want so much more out of us than just a focused approach on labs and drugs and guidelines. Patients want to be listened to and supported and validated all at once. And with the Medicare reimbursement changes coming our way, we would be wise to embrace patient satisfaction on equal par with patient outcome. Physicians who choose to go down this path will find not only greater job satisfaction, increased revenue, but a patient population that treats them like a rock star. Yes, having patients who are fans is exactly what we need in healthcare reform today.
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