Due to the increased availability of phlebology services available in most communities as new vein practices are popping up seemingly everywhere, patient satisfaction measurement needs to become a high priority within your internal marketing efforts to fend off competition. Patient satisfaction should be at the core of every medical practice, which leads to clinical and financial success. The benefits of having satisfied customers, as discovered by the business sector, have even more pronounced applications in health care, where quality outcomes has always been an explicit goal.
Why Patient Satisfaction Surveys Are Beneficial
Patient satisfaction surveys measure whether a patient’s expectations of a physician, sclerotherapy nurse, ultrasound tech or your vein practice product has been met or surpassed, enabling your medical practice to make improvements when and where necessary, or to maintain successful standards.
Purpose of Patient Satisfaction Surveys
By soliciting patient experience reviews, a medical practice is able to learn not only where they can improve, but also on how to increase internal employee performance. This valuable information helps an organization maintain patient loyalty while improving internal efficiency. When improvements are made, your patients notice!
Survey Data You Can Use To Set Priorities
Patients, Employees and Referral Physicians give you the best information about what shines about your practice, and what needs polishing. Satisfaction surveys are your best tool for asking key audiences what they think about your practice.
For reliable data you need a well-designed survey, a distribution method that produces the highest response, and easily understood reports that help you set priorities for improving the work processes and staff performance that affect patient satisfaction and referrals. Nationwide, satisfaction surveys have long been popular among health plans and employers. Increasingly, physicians are also conducting surveys, and for good reason. Every single practice, no matter how big, has competitors who want their patients. If you don’t know what your strengths and weaknesses are, you can’t compete.
Ask the right questions. Choose questions carefully, or your survey won’t give you the information you really need. Surveys typically cover the following areas:
- Access (ease of getting through on the phone, ease of getting an appointment, waiting times);
- Communication between patient and office (quality of health information materials, ability to get a call returned, getting tests results back quickly);
- Staff (courtesy of the receptionist, caring of nurses and medical assistants, helpfulness of people in the business office); and
- Interaction with the doctor (whether the doctor listens, thoroughness of explanations and instructions, whether the doctor takes time to answer questions, how much time the doctor spends with the patient).
It’s easy for practices to devote too many questions to waiting rooms and waiting times. Although those areas are important, they pale in significance to the interaction between the physician and the patient. What I find is that the interaction between the patient and the physician counts for more than all other factors combined. If there is a good relationship there, patients will put up with other problems.
Types of Surveys
Most satisfaction surveys must rely on essentially three basic methodologies. Surveys may be administered in-person, they may be conducted with individuals over the telephone, via a focus group, or they may be executed via mail with a stamped, self-addressed return envelope. Your practice may elect to mail your surveys and follow up with a telephone reminder to enhance the response rate. A telephone survey may be preceded by a letter announcing the anticipated date of the phone call. A hand delivered questionnaire given to a patient at the end of their office visit may be followed up with a telephone call or a letter / post card.
Sample size. When you distribute your Patient Satisfaction Survey, try to survey the largest number of patients possible. This will improve your chances of getting an adequate number of responses. For example, survey nearly every patient after every encounter for 2-3 months. If surveying every patient is simply out of your reach, you can survey a random sample of your patients — say, every third or fifth patient. A minimum goal for a vein practice would be to distribute 750 surveys, with an anticipated response rate of 30%, yielding 225 responses.
Response rates. 30% to 35% is a typical response rate. To bring your response rate to that level, mail the survey with a postage-paid reply envelope and a cover letter from the physician that explains the importance of patient feedback to your vein practice. Follow up on the survey 5 to 7 days later with a reminder card. Where you might have otherwise gotten a 30% response rate, it may increase to 45% or 50%.
Number of responses. An adequate response rate is important, but what is more important is the number of responses you receive. If you’ve managed to get a forty five percent response rate on your survey, but you’ve surveyed only 100 patients, you will not have enough data to draw meaningful conclusions. The more responses you can get, the more valid and reliable your results are likely to be. But what’s the minimum? I would suggest a minimum of 200 responses.
Analyzing the data. Analyzing the data may be the most complex part of the survey process. Usually, you can put together a survey yourself, you can access your patient records to determine who to send the surveys to, and you may come up with a reasonable response rate. The primary challenge emerges when the completed surveys are returned. If you don’t have someone with strong analytic and database-management skills, you are prone to end up with a stack of surveys that are never analyzed adequately. If your practice does not have the time or resources to analyze your survey data, consider outsourcing this step to a firm that specializes in health care data analysis.
What do I do with the results?
While you don’t have to act on every suggestion that your patients give you, you should take action on the key items that are causing dissatisfaction. Remember that your goal is to improve quality, not to place blame.
- Dissatisfaction with wait times. To improve in this area, a practice can develop a “time-analysis worksheet,” which tracks patients’ visits by the minute for the time a patient arrived at the office, entered the exam room, was greeted by the doctor and so on. This information allows the physician and staff to see how they’re spending their time and identify possible sources of delays.
- High levels of satisfaction. It’s nice to know that there are many patients with a positive image and positive feelings about your office. Everyone likes a pat on the back.
- Staff Bonus Structure. Build the results into your staff compensation structure. I believe in the carrot, not the stick. The higher the staff scores on the satisfaction surveys, the more staff bonus money allocated. That gets people to pay attention.
A provision in the healthcare reform bill promises to bring significance and urgency to measuring patient satisfaction. However, the benefits of these surveys extend far beyond meeting emerging government mandates, and some practices are already using them to make operational improvements.
Benefits of Patient Satisfaction Surveys
- The smart practices will take information gained from patient feedback and use it to strengthen their practice, their processes and their relationships with their patients.
- Reduce Patient Turnover. Practices can reduce patient turnover by using patient satisfaction surveys to improve customer service. Physicians with patient satisfaction ratings in the lowest 20 percent are nearly four times more likely to experience patient turnover than physicians in the top 20 percent. And remember, patients who are unhappy with their experience tend to spread the word to their friends and relatives.
- Reduce your malpractice risk. The effective use of patient satisfaction surveys can also reduce your likelihood of being sued. Research has shown that poor communication between doctors and patients is more likely to lead to a malpractice suit than an unsatisfactory clinical outcome.
David Schmiege is the president and CEO of Vein Specialists of America Ltd., a practice management consulting and advisory firm. Please direct any questions you may have for Schmiege to 630-789-3636 or e-mail him at [email protected].