Of all the quality and performance measures that hospitals must target, patient experience (satisfaction) is one of the most challenging to tackle.  While process and outcome measures have dramatically improved over the past few years, (thanks to such initiatives as electronic health records, engaging health coaches for patients with chronic diseases; and, practices such as giving aspirin to heart attack patients as a matter of policy), there’s yet to be found a fix for creating a fail-proof excellent patient experience.  Why not? There isn’t just one.  Consider that during a typical three-to-four-day hospital stay; a patient may interact with 50-60 employees, which represents a whole lot of opportunity to get it right every time.  Unfortunately however, the odds for failure are fairly high as well.

Pay-for-performance, which entails measuring patient satisfaction, is not going away anytime soon, and so it behooves hospital leaders to understand and address their roadblocks to achieving excellence when it comes to the patient experience. Whether it’s outdated or unenforced policies, workplace culture, attitudes or behaviors, it’s imperative to get to the heart of these matters if hospitals want to shift the focus on building a solid service-excellence oriented organizational culture.

For those hospitals struggling to maintain market share, patient satisfaction is not only the key to their success but to their survival.

If we alienate one customer, we will have to satisfy three other patients to stay even.

Improving interpersonal skills

Hospitals can take several tangible steps to enhance patient satisfaction, and not all of them are large undertakings. One of the most important indicators to determine the patient satisfaction outcome is the doctor-patient interaction. Improving physicians’ interpersonal skills can increase patient satisfaction, which is likely to have a positive effect on treatment adherence and health outcomes.

According to a National Research Corporation (NRC) survey, on a scale of 10, patients listed “willingness to explain things” as the most important criterion in the selection of a physician. Other factors used in the study were reasonable fees, phone access, friendly staff, and convenient locations, among others. The willingness to explain things was given a rating of 9.6 (out of a possible 10), well above the other criteria listed.

In some hospitals, physician bonuses are linked to patient evaluations of their doctor’s personal interaction with them. They have recognized that higher patient satisfaction benefits the hospital in many ways, including:

  •  Patients who improve with care make staff happier. The happier the staff, the happier the patient.
  • Increased patient satisfaction leads to greater patient loyalty.
  • Satisfied patients are less vulnerable to competitive pricing. In a study conducted in Voluntary Hospital of America, nearly 70 percent of patients were willing to pay more if they had to consult with a quality physician of their choice.
  • Improved staff morale with reduced staff turnover leads to increased productivity.

Better workplaces & cultures

Martin Makary, M.D., M.P.H, an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has written, “The better the workplace culture for staff, the more satisfied the patients. In any industry, if the employees feel good about their workplace, they are more likely to have satisfied customers.”

Poor patient satisfaction can have a devastating impact. According to the Technical Assistant Research Programs (TARPs), if we satisfy one customer, the information reaches four others. If we alienate one customer, we will have to satisfy three other patients to stay even. It’s estimated that the loss of a patient due to dissatisfaction can result in the loss of over $200,000 in income over the lifetime of a physician practice.

While excellent customer service doesn’t ensure that patients will remain loyal to the doctor or hospital, it is a high motivation factor. And, without excellence, there are no patients. Delivery of patient-focused care requires that we provide care in a particular way, not just sometimes or usually, but always – every patient, every day, every time.

The single most important contributing factor to hospital success is that hospital leaders embrace, drive and model service excellence for the organization. This culture of service excellence must be continuously nurtured to achieve high marks in patient satisfaction consistently and provide the best care for your patients and communities.

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Follow Michelle @MRBimpact.