Is Patient Satisfaction Important?
Written by Editor   
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 08:54 AM

Patient satisfaction surveys increasingly paint a grim picture of patients and doctors pitted against each other, with patients wishing to be pleased, and doctors feeling that they are being asked to provide inappropriate medical care or work harder to satisfy irrelevant measures imposed from above.  Some in Medicine claim that measuring the patient's experience is to blame for worsening the quality and value of care as well as career satisfaction. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) Hospital Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) program and the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) surveys have brought attention to the patient's perspective on healthcare. While the inpatient VBP pie adds new outcomes and quality measures yearly, the patient voice is the only piece that retains its generous 30% of dollars at stake for care provided to Medicare patients. This highlights an important message: Patients have something important to tell us about the care we provide, and we can do better. 

Improvement in patient experience elements like communication has the potential to reap great rewards, not the least of which is reconnecting ourselves to the human and healing part of medicine. That reconnection reminds us that what we do as clinicians matters to people in a very profound way, every minute of every day. When we become better listeners to patients, not only can we diagnose and treat better, but tensions increasingly morph into authentic gratitude, a powerful antidote to the burnout that so many of us experience in the current healthcare environment. 

A growing body of literature demonstrates the relationship between quality, safety, and communication in healthcare.  We cannot forget that the healthcare team is under significant pressure and scrutiny to produce better results in quality, safety, productivity, and documentation in addition to "satisfaction," all while facing a fire hydrant of change in healthcare. 

What most of our patients want from us is something much more meaningful and reasonable: feeling heard, feeling like they are partners in their care who bring the expertise of their experience of illness to the table, and being treated as human beings who are often vulnerable and are navigating what can be an unfriendly and foreign territory.

Contrary to dismissing "satisfaction" as being of no value, successful healthcare systems are embracing the challenge and transforming their approach to care. Strategies to achieve these mutual goals can include:

• Communication skill training for staff and providers to equip them to handle basic and difficult conversations more effectively

• Process improvements to cut waste in a way that fosters the great job that people want to do

• Fostering and supporting innovation

• Investment in provider and staff experience

• Leadership development in experience-related skills

• Partnering with patients and families to learn from them in such ways as:

    - Bringing patients and families in to advise

    - Routinely soliciting patient comments

    - Connecting patients to the healthcare team

    - Incorporating patient feedback in improvements

• Partnering with physicians to be part of the solution

• Building a culture of recognition and valuing of providers, staff, and team

There is a burgeoning swell of activity beginning to look more closely at how we do things and how we can improve. As doctors, we have a privilege to reduce suffering and improve health.  Our investment as providers in being part of the solution is both necessary and rewarding.

It is recognition of "satisfaction" as a partnership between the healthcare team and patients that will allow us to invest in ourselves and innovate -- rather than perpetuate -- an adversarial relationship. I suggest to you, this is not a route to the point; it is the point.