Planning for Improved Patient Satisfaction Performance

December 11, 2011

Making improvements to your patient satisfaction scores is certainly a blend of art and science.

Last week we looked at how to prioritize patient satisfaction efforts. We touched on the what and the why: What are we going to improve and why is it important? It's time now to turn our attention to planning out improvements we want to make that will drive real impact on our scores. You can plan out your patient satisfaction improvement efforts by answering three questions.

1. How will your team make the actual improvement? Once you know what you want to work on and improve, there are a lot of ways to go after it. You can set up projects to improve specific operational processes. You can enact policy changes or remove barriers that may be in place for your staff. You can create a set of specific behaviors that you want to see exhibited and then measure your staff to those behaviors. The best source for how to make improvements is your staff. They experience the realities of the environment every day and are highly likely to know exactly why things are the way they are and what could be done to improve it. Have a frank and open conversation about this without defensiveness and without rejecting any ideas right away. Let the discussion continue and see what comes to the surface.

2. How do we know if we're improving? Typically, patient satisfaction surveys are completed once or twice a year. Some practices may measure monthly, but to make real impact on your scores, you're going to need a way to know if you're moving the needle on a daily/weekly basis. This is where you start to tie your patient satisfaction survey scores into the daily operational measurements of your practice. Take the area of focus from your survey, for illustration let's say it's “lobby wait time,” and find an internal measurement you have that can serve as a proxy. Some practices have simple measurement systems for this - time logged by the patient at time of check-in to the time of the nurse call-back. As you make improvements to your process around lobby wait times, you can check in regularly with this daily metric. When it comes to these operational metrics, ask yourself a few questions. What will you measure? How will you measure it? How frequently? Set a goal for this metric that is attainable yet challenging. It's important to note here that patient satisfaction scores are a function of both reality and perception, so even when your actual internal measurements of the patient experience are improving, it's possible that patients won't "feel" the difference and perceive that anything has changed. That's why the next step is critically important.

3. How will you publish your scorecard? You will need to find a way to make your performance improvements visible to all (extensively with your internal staff and selectively with your patients). You need to communicate the improvements you're making and some tangible result of the changes. Consider how you can make your improvements understandable in simple terms. Where you will publish the information, and who will receive the updates? This communication can often be enhanced by creating a theme. For illustration, back in our lobby wait time example, you can create a theme called, "We care about your time" and create posters with your theme and a published percentage of patients that were seen in the last week in less than 10 minutes, or whatever benchmark level you've selected. This helps patients who experience something other than your target performance recognize that they are an anomaly on this visit and to exercise more patience with your staff. For those who experience the improved wait time, you've reinforced their suspicions that there was an improvement; or better yet, you've confirmed for a patient who thought they may have had just been lucky that day that a real change has been made.

Making improvements to your patient satisfaction scores is certainly a blend of art and science. Taking the right steps and communicating effectively about the improvements you make will help create an improvement structure and a culture in your practice of continuously improving patient experiences.

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