Patients are at the center of the medical practice, and with the emphasis on coding, billing, revenue, and all the other changes to come in this upcoming year, we believe that it is important that organizations don’t forget to focus on the one thing that can not only make or break their practice….but impact their revenue stream….patient satisfaction. Due to several changes brought about by healthcare reform, patients as consumers will be more empowered than ever. With transparency protocols being set into place the patient will now have access to cross compare pricing across facilities for the first time ever. With the implementation of healthcare ratings, they will also have access to knowing how your hospital or practice stacks up against the competition. Finally, reimbursement can be directly tied to the satisfaction rating of the patients that you serve, and low patient satisfaction rating can decrease the amount of reimbursement a facility receives. Unhappy patients will equal an unhealthy bottom line. So, how can you begin to address patient satisfaction, and make your healthcare organization respond positively to this newly empowered group of healthcare consumers? Here are 10 places to get started in increasing your patient satisfaction ratings:
1. Know you current satisfaction rating across multiple dimensions to establish a baseline for improvement
You won’t know where you are unless you ask. In order to establish an effective baseline for patient satisfaction you need to begin with creating a patient satisfaction survey, and you need to be sure that you are getting respondents. Most accrediting organizations insist upon surveying at least 25% of your patients, however many organizations fall short of getting this percentage of respondents. Make getting patient satisfaction responses from at least a quarter of your patients your first goal, and get creative in gathering the information by allowing people multiple opportunities to respond.
- Allow patient satisfaction surveys to be filled out at the time of appointment during check-out or as part of the discharge process, and make this a priority. If a patient leaves without completing the survey your response level will decrease by 80% so take advantage of getting feedback when the patient is at your facility
- For returning patients, incorporate the satisfaction survey into regular check in documentation
- Send follow up emails post appointment with links to online patient satisfaction surveys immediately after a patient is seen
- Offer incentives for filling out the survey, such as reward cards or a percentage off of the co-pay at the next visit – get creative to get to your 25%
2. Make sure that you gather details in your survey, and be prepared to drill down in the analysis
Some surveys are just too general to impact any real change. Every effective patient satisfaction survey should allow for some level of detail so that you can conduct meaningful analysis and bring about real change for your patients. This is especially important for facilities that have multiple departments. If your survey is too broad you may have one department with exceptionally low ratings, and another with exceptionally high ratings but without the detail you will not be able to target areas for improvement. It is also important to be able to drill down into survey detail by provider. This will allow you to focus resources and training on those staff which have low ratings to create more dramatic improvement. With this in mind, remember to also keep it brief. The best surveys will have some general information to be filled out (you can pre-fill this by department or provider to make the survey easier for the patient with information such as procedure or visit type and provider) as well as an open ended area where the patient can provide some general insights. The survey should never take more than 5 minutes to complete, but those offering incentives can have an 8 minute completion time for surveys and still get good results in the number of respondents.
3. Don’t just rely on patients, also rely on staff
Staff may have additional insight on how your organization can improve satisfaction, be sure to gather this insight quarterly in an anonymous manner. Front desk staff can be especially helpful in providing information on common complaints that they hear from patients which may not have made it into your survey. Gathering information from multiple sources and multiple perspectives will allow you to have a better feel for overall satisfaction that goes beyond the paper and electronic survey.
4. Focus on the front desk, and appointment scheduling staff
Front desk staff, and those who schedule initial appointments are your first point of contact with new and existing patients, and customer satisfaction should begin here. Make sure that your staff are personable, well trained, responsive, and go above and beyond for the patient. First impressions do count, and interaction with these staff members is the first impression that a patient gets of your facility or practice so ensure that it is a good one. Deeply involve these staff in customer satisfaction initiatives, and pay careful attention to survey responses that address inadequacies in this area.
5. Examine your patient wait times, both for appointment setting, and in the waiting room
Nothing lowers patient satisfaction more than inappropriate wait times. This applies to how long it takes to make an appointment with a provider, as well as how long a patient actually waits in the facility before being seen. According to Kevin, MD A study found that the average patient wait time is 24 minutes. This is unacceptable for patients, and those facilities which have the highest satisfaction ratings have an average patient wait time that is no longer than 15 minutes. Here are some ideas to trim down patient wait times at your facility or practice:
- Implement wave scheduling, or modified wave scheduling instead of traditional scheduling – this will allow your healthcare organization to not only maximize the number of visits per day, but decrease wait times for patients and allow open slots for same day visits.
- Don’t let front desk processes hold up your patient flow – pay particular attention to what time the patient arrives, and when they are brought back to be seen, and make it your goal to decrease this time by eliminating time consuming or inefficient processes. (allow for online registration for appointments, and allow paperwork to be filled out before the patient presents for an appointment either at the time of scheduling or via an online mechanism)
- Don’t overbook. Let me say this again….Don’t overbook – practices and facilities often overbook to compensate for no-shows. There are a variety of ways to more effectively deal with missed appointments which will not have your providers overtaxed and your patients dissatisfied. Overbooking should never be a strategy
- Patients calling for an appointment should always be able to get one within one week. This is the golden rule of scheduling. Patients who need a same day appointment should also have the ability to schedule these. If your patients have to wait more than a week to be seen, or cannot get a same day appointment when they need one this is a sure sign of scheduling disorganization. Consider evaluating your capacity for new patients, and work with other providers to create a referral network so that if you are unavailable there is still someone there that a patient can see in an emergency situation.
- If a patients wait time will exceed 15 minutes, communicate with the patient. It happens to even the best practitioners, emergencies come up and sometimes wait times will exceed 15 minutes, but do you let your patients know? Front desk protocols should be put in place when a provider is running behind schedule to provide patients with updates on when they will be seen, and delay notifications can improve satisfaction even if the wait time is longer.
6. Don’t underestimate the aesthetics of your facility