There is an important and fundamental difference between organizing patient satisfaction data around provider reliability and organizing it around patients’ unmet needs. With the former and more traditional approach, the analyses describe the overall reliability of physicians, nurses, and other personnel. With the latter, the data are analyzed around different types of patients’ needs.
“My colleagues and I think that the goal of reducing patient suffering is consistent with most organizational mission statements and the motivations of virtually all healthcare clinicians and other personnel,” says Thomas H. Lee, MD, author of An Epidemic of Empathy in Healthcare: How to Deliver Compassionate, Connected Patient Care That Creates a Competitive Advantage. But having it as part of a mission statement and making it the primary goal of every patient interaction is another. All healthcare efforts should be in service of reducing suffering. “The word suffering is an emotional one, of course, and one reason to use it is that it compels a response,” says Lee. “However, the goal of performance measurement is not to make clinicians feel guilty; it is to help them respond to patients’ needs with reliability.”
Patients Are Not Objective
Medical professionals tend to focus narrowly on a medical model of healthcare that is quick and objective: a medical history intake and physical examination. Follow up visits focus on evaluating treatment and defining success on clinical measures. Patients, however, see all the history in the context of quality of life: Will the ailment affect things such as quality of sleep, pain and discomfort, or the ability to socialize with others? Does it keep them from playing their favorite sports?
Treatments are also viewed emotionally—there is a stigma attached to taking anti-depressants, for example, which may make it difficult for patients to seek out help for mental health issues. Orthopedic shoes eliminate the clinical symptoms of pain in the feet, but patients often refuse to wear them. Some patients worry that medications will show up in occupational drug testing, endangering their ability to provide for themselves and their families. Emotional suffering is just as real as clinical pain.
“The role of providers is to anticipate, detect, and mitigate that suffering,” says Dr. Lee. “Pain, other symptoms, and loss of function are just a few types of inherent suffering. Fear, anxiety, and distress over loss of autonomy are also of enormous concern to patients, sometimes even more than pain itself.”
Satisfaction comes down to the extent of an individual’s experience compared with his or her expectations. To really achieve patient satisfaction, clinicians need to view ailments and treatments through the lens of that particular patient’s perception of quality of life. It’s this relationship between needs, satisfaction, and quality of life that defines the overall patient experience. How does “the cure” compare to the patient’s expectations?
Are such subjective criteria measurable? “What I learned from my career in clinical research is that if something is important, you will figure out how to measure it as well as possible,” says Dr. Lee. “Even if the issue is difficult to measure, such as quality of life, pain, or functional status—the ability of people to do the things they want to do—you approach the issue with discipline and methodological rigor. You frequently need to collect data from many patients, knowing that they will give widely varying responses. But if you collect enough data and calculate the average, you will get valuable information.”
Patient Satisfaction Is Not Marketing Babble
Patient satisfaction is not just for PR: it’s clinically relevant. Satisfied patients:
- are more likely to comply with treatment
- are more positive and optimistic about care, which has been shown to improve odds of success
- take an active role in their own care
- maintain treatment and follow up care more faithfully
- stay with their a health providers and healthcare systems
Responding consistently and reliably to patient expectations requires careful planning, which starts by predicting and anticipating patient needs. This can be anything from preparing equipment for expected testing to creating patient self-care packets in advance of revealing results from tests. For more ideas on how to improve patient satisfaction in your practice, please download the white paper Measuring What Matters to Patients, excerpted from Dr. Thomas H. Lee’s An Epidemic of Empathy in Healthcare: How to Deliver Compassionate, Connected Patient Care That Creates a Competitive Advantage.Tags: patient satisfaction, patient experience, patient suffering, Thomas Lee, measuring what matters to patients