Ten No-cost Ways to Improve Patient Satisfaction

October 23, 2013

Improving patient satisfaction does not need to be a huge undertaking. Just understand what patients appreciate and follow through.

Patient satisfaction is a big deal. It boosts patient attraction and retention, and it reduces the likelihood a patient will file a malpractice lawsuit. It also saves a practice time: Happy patients do not take up physician and staff time complaining. Finally, it is beginning to affect reimbursement. Already for hospitals, and soon for all physicians accepting Medicare, patient satisfaction scores will determine bonuses and penalties.

Unfortunately, physicians do not always understand what satisfies, or even delights, patients. They tend to believe that the biggest component of patient satisfaction is quality of care. 

What they miss is that patients have no way to effectively evaluate the quality of care. Instead, patients rely on proxies, and those proxies have everything to do with how the physician and staff make the patient feel - emotionally.

Here are 10 ways physicians and staff can significantly increase patient satisfaction:

1. Use the patient's name. People love to hear their own name.

2. Use an honorific (Mr., Ms., etc.) to address a patient, particularly if you want to be addressed as "Dr. Jones."

3. Wear easy to read nametags just below your right shoulder. First name only is fine for staff. The objective is to give the patient something better to say than "Hey, you," if she needs something.

4. Make eye contact with the patient as often as is practical. This indicates you are paying attention and engaged with the patient.

5. Tell the patient what to expect. This applies to medical assistants bringing a patient back to an examining room, physicians making referrals to specialists, and check-out staff recapping the billing for visits.

6. Let the patient know what you expect of him. If you need to enter data during the visit, for instance, say, "I am entering your information, but I am listening," to indicate he should keep talking. Say, "I have to enter this information. I'll be done in just a minute," to indicate that you need silence.

7. Give written visit summaries, patient education materials, and instructions. Patients forget an incredible amount of what is said during the visit by the time they get to their car. The ability to reference a written record reassures them.

8. At the conclusion of the appointment, make eye contact with the patient and say, "Take care." This phrase resonates with patients more than, "Thank you," "Have a nice day," or "See you soon."

9. Run on time, or close to it. This may be the primary way patients evaluate the regard the practice has for them.

10. Return phone calls and fulfill requests according to your posted protocol. It is only reasonable for a patient to assume that a practice out of control in some areas is out of control in others.

Please note that I did not mention coffee and Wi-Fi in the waiting room or birthday cards for patients.  Some patients may appreciate amenities and remembrances, but none will identify them as indicating caring and concern.  Behavior, sincere and consistent, is what convinces patients that they are respected and well cared for.