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How to achieve patient satisfaction

By Alice Anne Andress

Patient satisfaction is becoming one of the criteria by which physicians are chosen and retained, and practices are rated – by business and industry, the government, managed care and patients. Patient satisfaction pays, economically and clinically. It solidifies loyalty and compliance. It attracts new patients and can improve productivity. There are as many definitions of patient satisfaction as there are diagnosis codes, but it is really quite simple: patient satisfaction is what each patient says it is.

Patient satisfaction is determined by each individual patient’s needs and experiences, according to the physician’s actions. Creating a relationship and showing concern and caring for each patient will help to meet their needs and expectations. It is impossible to meet every patient’s needs, but if a relationship exits, the patients will generally be satisfied, nonetheless. Patients are happier with physicians who remember their name, their medical history and some facts about their personal life. Whether it is admitted or not, this personal touch is sometimes lost in group practice settings.

Physicians should learn what patients want and expect, and then provide it. A factor in achieving this success is communication and listening skills. This is not only directed to the physician, but the office staff as well. How to listen to the patient and respond to their concerns is an art that must be mastered. Ask patients for feedback and, most importantly, listen to it. When a patient asks a question, it is important to make sure it is answered. Help patients to understand their rights and to make wise choices. Treat any patient complaints as a chance to do better.

Pay-offs come from patient satisfaction because the practice becomes more profitable. Satisfied patients mean referrals of friends and family members. Patient retention will improve, as there will be fewer dissatisfied patients (there are always some that you just can’t please). Satisfied patients will pay for services on time and reduce collection efforts.

Patient satisfaction equates to quality service. Quality service means better staff morale, less staff turnover, and improved efficiency and productivity. Regulatory, economic and social factors are causing this heightened awareness of quality service, particularly in health care. With the past 15 years, patients have changed: they are now consumers of health care services. Not unlike Disney, the Marriott or Walmart, consumers will shop for products and services and will not settle for poor service. They are no longer the passive, unquestioning recipients of medical benevolence. This is especially true of the baby boomer generation. This generation is known to be more educated and more demanding, they see themselves as an active participant in life as opposed to someone who “sits on the bench” while life passes by.

Check on Patient Satisfaction

Before conducting a patient satisfaction survey, get the practice in order. First, put quality at the forefront of the practice’s vision, values and goals. Next, determine how much money you want to spend. An outside vendor may be costly, but the practice can do this in-house with just a little expenditure of time. Develop a patient satisfaction survey that is brief, clear and consistent. Address such items as waiting times, appointment times, courteous staff, easy parking, cleanliness of the office, and whether the physician explained things well.

Special Needs Patients

There are approximately 43 million Americans who are considered disabled. Personal service for patients takes place when all employees within a physician practice address the characteristics and needs of every patient in the practice. Patients with disabilities do not want pity, they want access, awareness and understanding. Special needs patients want practices to do things that are readily achievable to eliminate architectural barriers and allow them access. They want the practice to meet the communication needs with vision, hearing and other impairments, and are looking for necessary aids to assist them with their needs. By law, a practice with 25 or more employees is required to make reasonable accommodations for employees as well. Complying with the American with Disabilities Act is only one consideration, although an important one. One of the commonly overlooked issues is to clarify the physical and attitudinal expectations of patients with disabilities, cancer and other conditions. By recognizing and addressing disabled patient issues, the practice will build a relationship with the patient that speaks of its commitment and understanding. This builds patient satisfaction.

The Elderly Patient

Just as with special needs patients, the elderly need special considerations that will in turn promote patient satisfaction. Elderly patients have physical impairments brought about by their age. It takes longer for them to walk down the hall to the examination room. They may have vision problems such as glaucoma, cataracts or diabetic retinopathy. Their hearing may be impaired and therefore, patient instructions may be lost. They may experience confusion or dementia, which can be a roadblock to understanding instructions such as how to take medications. Practices should develop a policy on “Walk in their shoes, see through their eyes” medicine so that the entire staff is aware of the difficulties these patients face on a daily basis. A practice with understanding of these “senior” issues will make patients feel comfortable and will promote patient satisfaction. The practice provides quality care with medical expertise and technique, but it’s borne on attentive, personal interaction.

Let’s Change

If patients are made to feel that they are an intrusion and that their calls are interruptions to an already busy day, the guiding principle for the practice should be “What can we do for you today?” If telephone calls are answered and returned when it is convenient for the practice, and patients are placed on hold or transferred incorrectly, the guiding principle should be that every phone call is viewed as a patient with a need, that the caller’s permission is requested before placing them on hold or transferring the call. If the appointment schedule is set up to accommodate the practice and there is no flexibility, the guiding principle should determine that it is important to accommodate the needs of the patients. If patients are moved around the office in a sort of “musical chairs” fashion just to keep them moving, the guiding principle should be to move the patient only when necessary. If the parking spaces nearest the door are consumed with physician and staff cars, the guiding principle should be that patient parking should be as close to the door as possible for the convenience of the patients. If the office dE9cor, layout, lighting and temperature are at the direction of the physician and staff, the guiding principle is to consider patient comfort along with the functional needs of the practice.

Change is a constant. Every physician can choose to put patient satisfaction at the top of the list by making it the guiding principle of the practice or, by refusing to change, can allow external forces to determine the success of the practice. Ensuring satisfied patients is the role and responsibility of everyone in the practice, and the rewards of practice success belong to everyone who participates: patients, staff and physicians.

Alice Anne Andress, CCS-P, CCP is the Director of Physician Services at Parente Randolph, LLC.

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