Do You Really Know What Your Patients Think?

Lea Chatham January 13th, 2014

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register now to learn how to survey patients and improve your practice

By Judy Capko

Most physicians tell us their patient service is good and (for the most part) their patients are happy. Sure, they get an occasional complaint, but doesn’t everyone? When we probe further we discover that their opinion of the patients’ level of satisfaction is subjective and, sometimes, completely off the mark. There just aren’t that many practices that actually conduct patient surveys to find out what they really think.

A patient satisfaction survey provides valuable information when done right and the fact is that patient surveys are becoming even more important.

Healthcare reform intends to scrutinize the patient experience in ways healthcare providers are not used to. Tweet This

Reform’s goal is to ensure providers are meeting the patient’s needs in a number of specific areas that will influence the healthcare of the population in the future. With this in mind, a patient satisfaction survey should direct patients to report on their healthcare visit experience rather than their general feelings. Were they able to access the provider when they had clinical needs, and during their visit were they treated with respect or kept waiting for an hour with little concern displayed by providers or staff? Was the patient included in the clinical decision-making with open discussion and a clear understanding of his or her treatment choices? These are just a few elements of importance as we move toward reform’s patient-centered movement and a desire to improve the healthcare relationship between patients and their physicians.

A proper survey begins with developing a questionnaire that elicits essential information to help you understand if your office processes and level meets your patients’ needs. The responses will provide you with a baseline for setting improvement goals in areas where the practice is underperforming. In reality, unless you can tout stellar marks, there isn’t a lot of benefit in doing a survey unless you are willing to take corrective action where it is needed. In other words, it is important to commit to both the process and the results.

Don’t try tricking the system by polling only the patients that you think had a great experience. Certainly it’s nice to get accolades from happy patients, but the idea of a survey is to get to the truth and identify how to improve the practice by improving the patient experience. There is much to gain by meeting patients’ needs. Satisfied patients are more cooperative during their visit and in following the good doctor’s advice. A happy patient is much more pleasant to deal with in the office and is even more flexible when it is required. For example, if you maintain a good relationship with your patients and treat them right they are not likely to complain if you need to reschedule an appointment because of an emergency or if you ask them to fill out “just one more form”.  Another potential gain with providing a high quality patient experience is financial. CMS is already establishing financial incentives for larger practices, based on specific quality indicators and will involve smaller practices and solo physicians in this program in a few short years. The larger insurance plans are also adopting plans that offer financial rewards to practices that improve the patient experience , inevitably reducing the cost of care while improving  patient outcomes.

So what do patients want from you? They want to feel valued and respected; call them by name and tell them who you are and what to expect during their visit—especially the new patient. They want good communication; if you are taking a telephone message from a patient in need, please tell her when to expect a return call. If you take a message at 9 a.m. and know you won’t be able to get before noon, explain this and get their agreement, and make sure you know how she wants to be reached.

This may sound simple, but in the age of technology it’s not necessarily so. Your patient may want an email, a text message, a call to home or work or a call to their mobile phone. He might even want you to reach him through the patient portal or an elderly person could want you to call a family member instead. Get your facts straight—you’ll save time and have a happier patient. It’s good communication and it matters.

Patients want the same level of courtesy and consideration from the support staff as they get from the clinician who is providing the treatment. Make sure the practice culture focuses on delivery of service consistently throughout the organization. Discuss patient service at staff meetings and seek ideas on how you can move the bar and continually improve the patient experience. Conduct a new employee orientation session that focuses strictly on the commitment to patient service and your expectations of staff to meet this commitment. In addition, pay attention to your patient’s point of view. By conducting satisfaction surveys repeatedly, you can hold your practice accountable for a higher standard of care and service. It is no longer just about what’s the matter with the patient, but what matters to the patient!

To find out more about how to survey patients, analyze their feedback, and use it to improve your practice, join me for my upcoming webinar, Nothing but the Facts: Find Out What Your Patients Really Think, on January 15.

 About the Author

Register now to learn how to survey your patients and improve your practice

Judy Capko is the founder of Capko & Morgan, a healthcare consulting firm. She is located in Thousand Oaks, CA. Judy is the author of Secrets of the Best-Run Practices, Take Back Time and co-author of The Patient-Centered Payoff. Judy is a national healthcare speaker may reached at

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