Putting the ‘Action’ in Patient Satisfaction

December 18, 2011

Collecting patient feedback for the sake of collecting it is useless. If you’re going to collect feedback, take action on it.

There have been several studies regarding actions taken on customer feedback across a variety of industries and the conclusions come back with similar results. One report states that well over 80 percent of companies collect some kind of feedback from customers, but that less than 5 percent take meaningful actions with it and make improvements in their business.

Knowing that the 5 percent who take action consistently produce superior financial results, there is a significant advantage to be gained in your practice by simply acting on feedback you receive from your patients. So, how do you cut through all the aggregated statistics, voluminous reports, and data and get to actionable improvements you can make for your staff and your patients?

Use open-ended verbatim comments from patients. Hearing directly, word-for-word from your patients is one of the most insightful ways to know specifically what you should fix; yet far too many practices miss this opportunity with how they structure their patient satisfaction surveys.

In your surveys you certainly want some quantifiable, hard data like what you get with many of the Clinician and Group CAHPS (CGCAHPS) survey question items. You should also push to add a few simple, open-ended questions into your survey as well. This allows your patients to provide granularity and color to the scores you receive from them. Practices have gained a lot of insights with a few simple questions.

One example: “What one thing should the practice improve in the next 12 months?” This question forces respondents to prioritize the element of their experience that they place the highest value on. When you receive these back you can read them individually for improvement ideas, and you can aggregate similar recommendations across your patients. Another key question is: “Do you have any unresolved problems with our practice that we need to address?” This allows you to identify the types of problems that tend to go unresolved and simmer beneath the relationship. It also gives you a chance to remedy the situation then and there. Lastly: “Is there anyone on our staff that should be recognized for consistently providing outstanding service to you?” Allow your patient to provide positive reinforcement to the members of your staff. This can help you to understand who performs well even when no one is watching and is a great way to build positive morale within your practice.

Take immediate action as close to real-time as possible. This is a powerful technique that will transform the culture of your practice. Acting on feedback - in a direct and specific way - as it is received helps your staff recognize the importance of patient satisfaction on a daily, operational basis and builds stronger relationships with your patients who tell others about what you’ve done. Take those open-ended questions you’ve created and build “immediate action alerts” around them.

As soon as you receive feedback from a patient with an unresolved problem, have your practice manager - or you, yourself - reach out to that patient on the phone (or ideally in-person) and with empathy do what you can to resolve the issue. The patient will be surprised by your proactive approach and your staff will recognize that it is not acceptable to leave issues lingering with patients. Second, as soon as you receive patient recognition for one of your staff, make it a point to send them a note or talk to them about the positive feedback. Some practices make this part of a monthly staff meeting where they publicly recognize those employees that garner positive feedback and read the patient comments verbatim in front of the group. Not only does this positively reinforce the behavior of the staff member, it also helps establish expectations and a model to follow for the rest of your staff.

Collecting patient feedback for the sake of collecting it is useless. If you’re going to collect feedback, take action on it. Let it be the catalyst that helps guide you and your staff to deliver the highest quality of healthcare available. Build processes within your practice to take action on it - actions that are broad and systemic like process improvements - as well as actions that are immediate and tactical like recognizing employees based on patient comments.

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