What Is Patient Satisfaction?
It is difficult to define a multidimensional and complicated concept such as patient satisfaction. In general, patient satisfaction is a measurement derived from surveys and interviews designed to assess how a patient feels about services provided through a health care provider.
Patient satisfaction scores can help health care practices improve the patient experience and may also qualify a provider for federal incentives. Improving patient satisfaction scores can be complicated, though, as patient expectations vary as much as the patients themselves. Possible factors to look at when determining patient satisfaction are perceived responsiveness of health care providers and staff, pain management, the health care facility environment, intake/discharge satisfaction and communication about prescriptions or procedures.
How Is Patient Satisfaction Assessed?
Many providers design their own surveys or interviews to assess patient satisfaction internally. The first national standardized, publicly reported, patient satisfaction survey was developed in 2005 by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Known as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), this survey collects responses to 32 questions and is administered to a random sample of adult patients after they have been discharged from a hospital setting by a CMS approved vendor. The majority of the questions are related to the patient’s hospital experience, and a small number of the questions collect demographic information. HCAHPS improves on similar local and hospital-specific surveys because the results are standardized and publicly reported, allowing for valid comparisons across institutions and geographies.
Incentives to participate in HCAHPS were created by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. The stated goals of HCAHPS are as follows:
- Produce data about patients’ perspectives of care, allowing for objective and meaningful comparisons of hospitals
- Create incentives for hospitals to improve quality of care
- Enhance accountability in health care by increasing transparency
What Can Be Done to Improve Patient Satisfaction?
There is no shortage of advice and strategies to improve patient satisfaction. Overall, research suggests that the most consistent elements in achieving patient satisfaction are those that contribute to a feeling of more “personal” care.
Improving provider/patient communication is a key element in improving patient satisfaction. Creating a culture among staff that personalizes communication through use of the patient’s name, proper introductions and eye contact is an inexpensive way to improve scores. Likewise, consistent verbal and written communication ensures the patient is aware of the care plan and understands expectations. Finally, taking care to be on time and return phone calls and messages promptly ensures that patients feel their time is valued in the eye of the provider.
Some aspects of patient satisfaction, such as managing psychosocial factors, pain and mental health factors, pose more complicated problems when it comes to improving patient satisfaction. Successful hospitals often report that patient-centered care practices and shared decision-making can impact the identification of these specific factors in individual patients and provide a platform for integrating these needs into care plans.
All strategies to improve patient satisfaction rely on strong leadership in the administration to encourage and develop a strong culture of patient centeredness that values patient satisfaction. Making sure patients feel the administration is visible and responsive to their needs helps administrators sympathize with the issues facing their organizations and patients.
While tactics and strategies can improve certain aspects of patient-satisfaction scores, high scoring hospitals consistently report that no specific strategy is accountable for their success; rather they attribute it to a culture of patient-centeredness. In the end, a comprehensive approach to address all patient-satisfaction deficits and change the overall culture of an institution is the best roadmap to high patient satisfaction.