On one level, a patient “feels good” about the encounter when the hospital, facility and/or the practitioner has empathetically met their needs and their expectations.
On other levels, patient-physician communications channels are open, and a sense of “satisfaction” can increase patient compliance (and thus enhance outcomes), inspire referrals, influence compensation, reduce potential malpractice risk, and other dynamics.
“If you are still resisting jumping on the ‘service with a smile’ bandwagon,” Michael Pulia, MD, FAAEM, cautions via MedScape, “it might just run you over. Today, there are online reservations for Emergency Department (ED) visits, publically broadcasted wait times, patient comfort rounds, drive-through vaccination programs, hospital-employed patient advocates and retail clinics trying to meet these new demands.”
Physicians—whose education did not include patient satisfaction courses—want to learn about “what works?” Fortunately physicians and provider facilities can draw on the experience and advice of professional colleagues.
Expectations, empathy and communications…
“An oversimplified summary of these [patient satisfaction] efforts,” writes Dr. Pulia, “is that our patients want rapid/efficient care from a physician who is empathetic and communicates well.”
With regard to the nearly universal problem of wait times, Dr. Pulia proposes shaping patient expectations with frequent updates, with an estimated timeline at the conclusion of each interaction or process step.
“By setting the estimated time at a mark you can meet or beat 99 percent of the time, you are more likely to end up with a pleasantly surprised patient who has waited less time than expected. From a patient’s perspective, the only thing worse than waiting is waiting without receiving any explanation.” Accordingly, provide the patient with a brief apology and expectation if the time estimate is missed.
Time spent with the doctor is also an element of the patient’s perception of physician empathy. Admittedly, empathy is a subjective consideration, but Dr. Pulia suggests some seemingly simple steps to enhance patient satisfaction. These include “sitting down with the patient increases the perceived physician bedside time.” (By another study, simply walking around to the side of the bed—rather standing at the foot of the bed—enhances the perceived value.)
Empathy can have a connection with both time and communications. For example, when a doctor’s body language presents as “engaged,” “collaborative” and “active listening,” and when the patient feels that their concerns are being heard (and not rushed), both communications and satisfaction can improve.
Achieving a higher level of satisfaction with patients is a challenging and on-going task, but relatively small things can make a big difference. What’s more, the benefits for both physician and patient include a stronger sense of trust in the physician, a higher level of compliance and a better medical outcome.
For additional insight and practical strategies, read the complete Medscape article, Simple Tips to Improve Patient Satisfaction, and our two-part series: The Psychology of Waiting vs. Patient Experience Enemy Number One and Improving Wait Times: Tips to Creating a Better Patient Experience.