Customer satisfaction is important in any business, and healthcare is certainly no exception. In order to be a contender in today’s competitive healthcare market, physicians need ongoing feedback from their patients. Not only can this feedback help improve processes, but it can also enhance patient retention. Surveying patients directly is one way in which practices can glean this important information.
Surveying patients about the quality of care they receive—including what they like and more importantly, what they don’t like—is definitely a smart business move, says Tom Jeffrey, president of the SullivanLuallin Group, which helps administer patient surveys and establish patient satisfaction improvement plans for practices of all sizes, including solo practitioners and groups of a hundred or more physicians.
“Right now, in the industry, 70% of new patients are word-of-mouth referrals,” says Jeffrey.
“When patients have good things to say about your practice, that’s generally where you get new business.”
A well-constructed survey can also help physicians understand how they can connect with patients. This connection can actually improve the efficacy of the care they provide, says Jeffrey. “When patients connect with their physician and feel that the physician listens to them and communicates well, the likelihood that the patient will follow and complete the treatment regimen is higher. This leads to better outcomes.”
Consumers want to voice their opinions, and they also want to know the opinions of others. According to USA Today, one in four consumers checked the online ratings for their physician when choosing a primary care doctor in 2012. If physicians don’t know what these ratings say or imply, they could be missing out on opportunities.
Surveying patients internally gives physicians a first-hand glimpse into how their patients feel about them. Many public websites have been publishing this information for quite some time. Healthgrades®, for example, is a website that allows patients to take an online survey to give feedback about a provider’s ability to listen, ease of scheduling appointments, office cleanliness, and more. Other sites, such as Vitals, Consumer Reports, Yelp, and even Angie’s List have similar purposes.
Most physicians today are becoming more interested in patient satisfaction because it’s such an important driver in healthcare reform, says Jeffrey. Not only is patient engagement and satisfaction important in terms of Meaningful Use, but surveying patients using the Clinician and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CG-CAHPS) survey is also a requirement for providers in an Accountable Care Organization (ACO) or a Medicare Shared Savings Program, according to CMS.
It behooves providers to survey patients now so they can gauge overall satisfaction before these ratings and scores continue to become publicized via Physician Compare and other sites. Some providers are already banding together to make scores public.
For example, the Maine Quality Forum launched an initiative to encourage the use and public reporting of patient experience survey data to improve quality. Each practice site that participates in the initiative will partner with a vendor to administer either the six or 12-month version of the CG-CAHPS PCMH survey or CG-CAHPS core survey instrument. The Maine Quality Form will pay $8.65 per completed survey or 90% of actual survey costs (whichever is less). Survey results will be publically reported at the practice level at http://www.mainepatientexperiencematters.org/.
Prevea Health, a 200-physician multi-specialty group in Green Bay, WI has been using the Press Ganey survey at each of its sites since 2006, according to a white paper developed by Physicians Practice and sponsored by Press Ganey. Not only does the specialty group provide reports to individual physicians, but it also posts survey results internally for all physicians to see.
Even if your practice isn’t part of a larger initiative, it can still solicit feedback from patients using something as simple as a comment box at the receptionist desk, says Jeffrey. If physicians want to administer a more formal survey, they can do so using one of several surveys available, such as the one provided by SullivanLuallin Group at http://tinyurl.com/ohulk6k.
Providers may also want to partner with a vendor to administer the survey. Doing so allows physicians to compare their data with practices nationwide. SullivanLuallin Group, for example, has compiled more than 300,000 patient responses in just the last 12 months, allowing practices to benchmark their data by specialty, says Jeffrey.
Jeffrey provides the following tips for practices that want to try doing it themselves:
- Administer the survey to a random and representative sample of your practice’s population.
- Include as many questions as you feel necessary; however, try not to exceed 40 questions.
- Ask about access to care (ease of scheduling appointments), communication with physicians and other staff members, thoroughness of the exam, ability of the provider to listen thoroughly, and ease of obtaining answers to billing questions.
- Survey patients at least once per year or on an ongoing basis. Use the first survey as a baseline. Take steps to improve the patient experience and then re-survey to compare results.
- Provide patients with options for completion, such as email, telephone, mail, or point-of-service (at the office via a tablet or paper).
The bottom line is to do something—anything—to evaluate performance and solicit feedback from patients because it will help you achieve three key goals—improving satisfaction, retention, and outcomes. “You need feedback from your patients at regular intervals,” says Jeffrey. “Surveying is just the first step. Without it, it’s just business as usual, and this could be problematic when competition heats up.”