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Published on : January 15, 2014

Everyone Has an Opinion

Everyone Has an Opinion

Let’s face it: everyone has an opinion, and it usually does not take much prodding to get it out of someone. We see it all around us. At your local restaurant, your far too perky server will undoubtedly ask the question “How does everything taste?” Unfortunately, that question will usually be posed to you immediately after you have taken an enormous bite of your entrée, thus, you response is usually reduced to a feeble thumbs-up with the hand that is not holding the fork. At the check-out counter at your favorite retail outlet, the clerk will most likely ask you “Did you find everything you needed today?” And, hopefully, when you arrive home at night after a grueling day at the office, there is someone there to lovingly inquire “How was your day, Honey?” Even on the national level, an entire industry revolves around charting the public opinion. Just tune into the evening news and you are likely to hear about the latest polling results on the breaking national issues. The pollsters are continuously collecting opinions on specific subjects, sometimes from a random group, or sometimes from a select group, for the purpose of analysis. Knowledge is power, and armed with the knowledge of how a particular body of people think and feel, conclusions can be reached, policies can be made, and the risk of making a wrong turn can, hopefully, can be avoided.

Distill all of that down to the practice of medicine, and it presents an interesting paradigm: Perhaps, one of the most important elements of maintaining a successful practice was, most likely, barely touched upon during a formal medical education. It is just plain common sense that a good physician/patient relationship is a crucial element of a successful practice. Additionally, though, the fact that patients do not complain does not necessarily mean they are satisfied with the care they are receiving. So, the only real method of assessing the concept of how your practice is meeting your patients’ expectationsis to ask your patients their opinion. The concept of quality healthcare is not complete without a rigorous discussion of patient satisfaction.

Unfortunately, bad medicine can happen, but it is fair to say that a great majority of complaints may have their true roots in the fact that the patients’ expectations were not met. One of the best risk management tools is, of course, to practice good medicine. Yet, more often than one would care to recognize, the ‘patient/practice’ relationship can sour due to a lack of effective interpersonal communication. It may have started with the fact that the patient thought it was too difficult to arrange an appointment, or that the patient was not satisfied with the amount of time the physician spent with them. In reality, it matters not how a patients’ dissatisfaction begins. If your practice can meet your patients’ expectations, then your patients will more than likely react favorably by continuing their relationship with your practice, and perhaps even recommend your practice to a friend. The best method to gauge your patients’ opinion of their experience is simply to ask them for it, and by far the most cost effective method of achieving that is by a properly constructed and thoroughly analyzed patient satisfaction survey.

When one compares the potential gains with managing risk at this level with the potential liabilities of ignoring the issue of patient satisfaction, there can really be no legitimate objection. If your practice is a member of a medical malpractice insurance organization, it’s possible that the administration and analysis of a patient satisfaction survey is a member service, available to the practice for no additional cost. If not, there are independent consulting firms that can work with your practice to design and analyze a survey. The reality is, though, that the cost of an independently produced and analyzed survey is very minor when compared to the potential liabilities it is designed to avert.  A properly written survey can be a very powerful and reliable tool. Whether you elect to offer a blanket approach, or target specific groups of patients within your practice, the results won’t lie. They will provide true insight into the level of satisfaction your patients are feeling

Obviously, the goal of any patient satisfaction survey must be to assess the patient’s perception of the practice. It sounds simple, and, in fact, the experts agree. Dr. Leonard M. Fromer, who is the Executive Medical Director, Group Practice Forum and Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Family Medicine, University of California at Los Angeles, was quoted in the January, 1999, issue of “Family Practice Management” as saying “Keep It Simple.” He continues: “Practices have three general goals when they interact with patients: to provide quality health care, to make that care accessible, and to treat patients with courtesy and respect. Your survey questions, then, should cover each of the three areas: quality issues, access issues, and interpersonal issues.” Notice that the goal of the patient satisfaction survey is not to assess whether or not the patient received sound medical treatment. Rather, it is to assess how the ‘practice’ treated the patient. How long did it take to actually get the appointment? Was the staff courteous? Was the Doctor perceived as being attentive? Would the patient recommend the doctor to a friend or family member? None of these questions deal with good or bad medicine. They are completely geared to assessing the patients’ perception of the interpersonal contacts made during the setting and execution of their appointment.

Just as it is in the politician’s best interest to know how their constituents react on certain issues, knowing whether or not the patient’s overall level of satisfaction is positive or negative can have serious impact on the ‘practice of the practice.’ The only way to take advantage of this knowledge is to actually address the issues raised by the results of the survey. Remember, the survey is merely a means to an end, and to ignore the results of the analysis would surely be a big mistake. The array of benefits from a successful patient satisfaction survey can only be realized if the entire staff is made aware of the results, and both the strengths and the weaknesses of the practice are recognized and acted upon. A successful practice is surely a team effort, so staff awareness of the results of a survey is essential.

Taking into consideration the patient’s opinion of his or her experience in your office is invaluable, and that can only be achieved in a systematic way through the creation, execution and implementation of a well-designedpatient satisfaction survey. If used properly, the patient satisfaction survey can truly serve as a diagnostic tool for the practice. It will help you increase patient safety, reduce your liability, and perhaps even serve as a marketing tool. Keep in mind that happy clients tend to make positive recommendations, whether it be for a good restaurant or a good doctor.

About the Author

Stephanie McMullin is a senior risk management and patient safety specialist for the Cooperative of American Physicians, headquartered in Los Angeles.