Patient satisfaction has been one of those warm and fuzzy topics. Everyone seems to know that it is important on a qualitative basis, but no one actually quantified the true impact. We hear comments like, “Happy patients who like their doctors do not sue.”
Or conversely, “Unhappy patients are quicker to file a claim against a doctor.” The reality is that the lack of satisfaction drives more professional liability claims than previously thought.
Medical practices and hospitals can actually reduce their liability exposures by implementing specific patient satisfaction strategies. A recent study by Press Ganey, an independent satisfaction measurement company, compiled data from over 600,000 patient satisfaction surveys. Responses were broken into three categories: Positive (patients with only positive feedback), Negative (patients with primarily negative comments), and Malpractice (Patients that indicated an intention to sue.)
In the “Friendliness/Courtesy” category, Positive ratings were nearly 98%, Negative at slightly over 88%, but Malpractice ratings were down to 53%. The communications segment, relating to explanations about the problem or condition, had similar findings: Positive at 97%, Negative at 84% and Malpractice at 44%. Going down the line of categories ranging from level of concern expressed by the doctor to the doctor using words that the patient could understand, the results continually showed that the Malpractice score was one-half to two-thirds lower than the Positive and Negative scoring.
Similarly, a study by Stevens & Lee, a major legal and consulting firm, reviewed 239 medical malpractice claims. 73.7% of the claims were linked to failures in service or communication – two critical factors in patient satisfaction.
On the service side, the most common factors were: service failure, service issue, failure to manage expectations, patient conflict, and perception of physician’s demeanor. On the communication side, key factors were: failure to explain risks, failure to explain nature of the treatment, poor physician to patient communication, and a communication issue with the patient’s family.
This new research reinforces previous thoughts regarding the importance of patient satisfaction in minimizing the risks of medical malpractice claims. It is now absolutely clear that communication and service will make a difference to patients that are contemplating a lawsuit. Thus, it is incumbent upon the medical community to begin looking at patient satisfaction as an investment with a definite return that affects the bottom line profitability of any organization.
The Press Ganey report included a case study of a Texas-based medical practice specializing in orthopedics. This practice of 16 orthopedic surgeons, 2 psychiatrists and numerous support staff, handles an average of 51,000 patient visits per year. Since the practice began diligently focusing on increasing the levels of patient satisfaction, it has encountered fewer complaints than ever before and significantly reduced malpractice premiums. Such results have proven their efforts to increase satisfaction are a good return on their investment.
According to Press Ganey’s president and CEO Melvin Hall, improved levels of patient satisfaction can include:
- An enhanced reputation within the community
- Reduced malpractice claims
- Lowered malpractice premiums
- Increased patient loyalty
- Greater efficiency and productivity
Press Ganey’s analysis of “return on investment” shows the dollar impact of improved patient satisfaction:
- A 120 million dollar revenue hospital can expect revenue increases ranging from $2.2 million to $5.4 million.
- Every lawsuit that is avoided will save $53,000 in preparatory defense costs and $173,000 in payments.
There are numerous articles, white papers and consultants available to help organizations improve patient satisfaction within their operation. But such efforts are not singularly focused. In order to improve patient satisfaction, it is necessary to maintain a three-pronged focus:
- Addressing the physical and emotional needs of the patients.
- Improving physician behavior and demeanor.
- Improving staff behavior and demeanor.
As the pressure increases for quality outcomes, patient safety, and risk management, patient satisfaction surveys at every level of the medical industry are becoming more important. However, there has to be an accountability and a scrutiny given to the responses. We have to go beyond the human tendency to focus on the “good” scores and begin paying attention to the deficits that are uncovered. The deficits are the catalysts for change. Don’t look to your surveys for “boasting rights”, look to your survey as harbingers of necessary changes to be implemented.