Using Patient Satisfaction Surveys to Boost Practice Performance

November 24, 2015 by Antonio Arias, MBA, CHBME

Topics: Meaningful Use Stage 2

In our experience as a medical billing company, doctors and practice managers are often hesitant to treat their patients like customers – or to refer to them as such. To some it feels unethical to view a patient encounter as a transaction, since it can lead to seeing patients as an income stream rather than as human beings seeking care, treatment, and outcomes.

Yet the practice of medicine is also a business, and leading any revenue cycle management stream to success requires a strong focus on customer service and satisfaction. Assuming patients’ loyalty will breed their retention is no longer an option: With U.S. healthcare patients growing increasingly responsible for the costs of their own care, it’s more common than ever for patients to “shop around” for doctors and price-check recommended procedures and treatment plans from provider to provider.

Ultimately, the only way to keep your patients coming back to your practice is to make sure they’re satisfied with the experience they receive from you. That experience is about far more than just the patient-provider relationship and the effectiveness of a given course of care; it includes patients’ perception of your office, their interactions with your staff, and dozens of other factors ranging from scheduling availability to the reading materials in your waiting room.

Don’t assume that just because your patients aren’t complaining, they’re happy. The only way to truly know how satisfied your patients are is to ask them directly and often. The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) has found that over 60 percent of “better-performing” medical practices regularly use patient satisfaction surveys to measure, evaluate and improve their operations.

Is your practice “better-performing”? Or could it perform better? Distributing surveys, and acting on the results you receive, is the only way to find out.

The knowledge of the patient’s opinion of his experience in your office is invaluable. It is, in many ways, just as important to the success of the practice as a correct diagnosis is to the health of the patient. If used properly, the patient satisfaction survey can truly serve as a diagnostic tool for the practice.

To make your surveys the more effective follow these best practices:

Address It All: The most important areas to cover with your survey are the ‘key three’: quality, access, and interpersonal concerns. But going broader can be helpful, since asking unexpected questions can elucidate issues you may not have thought of. Consider including survey queries about non-essential factors such as parking, office appearance, staff and physician professionalism, and costs.

Keep ‘Em Simple: Deliver your survey in the means most likely to get patients to complete it; if that means paper, use paper. And avoid any instinct to overcomplicate things. Write your surveys with clear, concise language and stick to yes/no options or “How satisfied are you with X?” questions that correlate to 1-5 ratings. (Doing so will make data collection and assessment easier.) Of course, include space for personalized feedback and comments, too.

Leverage Your Resources: Large practices and healthcare groups often pay independent consulting firms to conduct patient satisfaction surveys, but there may be other options available to you. If your practice is a member of medical malpractice insurance organization, the administration and analysis of a patient satisfaction survey may be a member service, available to your practice at no additional cost. And don’t forget to look into what resources may also be available to you from any specialty-specific associations your practice is affiliated with.

Use What You Learn: Your survey results are useless if you don’t take action on them. Cull new goals and objectives from your survey results (i.e., 10 percent improvement in a given area by this time next year) and hold yourself accountable for following up.

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