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Winston-Salem, N.C. - One night, Dr. Steven Feldman woke up in a hotel bed and had a "Eureka!" moment.
"When I woke up that night I realized that I was spending my life focusing my entire being on working as a doctor. Yet there was no reliable way for me to gauge patient satisfaction," he says.
That night, Dr. Feldman - a dermatologist in private practice and a professor at Wake Forest University - conceived the idea for http://DrScore.com/, a Web site where patients could log on, take an anonymous survey, and quickly and easily give feedback about a doctor's performance.
His intuition that night turned out to be right. During the first two years of its operation, more than 17,000 patients have logged on to the http://DrScore.com/ Web site to rate their doctors.
"I bought a list of all the doctors in the country, so that we would have a representative sample," says Dr. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., professor of dermatology, pathology and public health science at Wake Forest. At press time, just under 100 physicians had paid a nominal fee of about $100 a year to be members of the site. In return, they receive quarterly reports that provide information about how they rate in terms of patient satisfaction, and how their scores stack up against other physicians.
The site enables patients to see the patient satisfaction scores of their own physicians as well as those of other doctors. Patients can also search for physicians in specific specialties on the Web site. http://DrScore.com/ also provides links to educational sites on the Internet and gives contact information for numerous patient advocacy associations.
The Web site is supported by the fees the physician members pay as well as Feldman's own funds.
"This is a way for doctors to be held accountable to a standard of excellence," Dr. Feldman says. "Customer feedback can vastly enhance the practice of medicine."
What do patients value?
What are the qualities that patients value most in their physicians? In an unpublished study of 5,000 of DrScore's patient surveys, Feldman found that patients give the highest marks for access - short wait times, the ability to see a physician on short notice, and having telephone calls returned quickly and reliably.
Communication skills are also highly valued by patients. Patients like physicians who listen well and who take their concerns seriously. Many patients have had providers who they felt did not listen to them, and they could clearly tell the difference when a physician was attentive.
"He truly listens and does not shrug off what you are feeling," wrote one patient about his physician.
Providers who can convey information in a way that is easy to understand are also admired. However, bedside manner is also important. Many patients who took DrScore surveys valued physicians who were soft-spoken and direct, and who gave them honest opinions - but in a warm and caring manner.
A great personality - friendliness, understanding and the ability to inspire trust - are also qualities that patients desire in a physician. Ironically, these qualities were more admired than outstanding medical care. In regard to medical care, however, patient advocacy, technical competence and thoroughness were most admired.