Patient satisfaction impacts therapeutic outcome, evidence shows

December 31, 2012

A patient’s experience has been shown to impact treatment adherence and outcome, says Charles Ellis, M.D., William B. Taylor professor and associate chairman, department of dermatology, University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor. Therefore, it’s in the patient’s best interest for dermatologists to measure patient satisfaction.

“There is evidence that patients who are more satisfied adhere more to a doctor’s recommendations,” Dr. Ellis says. “If patients have a good experience, they are more likely to complete the recommended therapy, and therefore they should do better.”

Satisfaction in total

Patient satisfaction encompasses not only the interaction with the physician but the interaction that the patient has with the physician’s support staff - beginning with the first phone call. Listening and empathy are highly correlated with overall patient satisfaction, Dr. Ellis says.

Questionnaires and/or surveys relating to patient satisfaction typically ask patients if they perceive the physician listened to them. Another frequently asked question is whether the patient would recommend that physician to a friend or family member.

Other components that enter into overall patient satisfaction include the staff’s interest in the patient, time spent waiting to get an appointment (or the time spent in the waiting room on the day of the appointment) and the patient’s perceived efficiency of the office.

With the increasing number of patients who may not have English as a first language, it’s wise for physicians to have handouts relating to treatment and disease information in languages other than English as well, Dr. Ellis says.

Time drain myth

Enhancing patient satisfaction does not require lengthy visits; body language and simply listening to patient feedback can make a big impact, Dr. Ellis says. One simple step that physicians can take in the examination room when interacting with the patient is to sit down rather than stand up for the entire visit.

“Studies have shown that if you sit down in the examination room - even briefly - you improve the perception of the time you have spent with the patient,” Dr. Ellis says.

Physicians should learn to love complaints, he adds.

“Complaints are very valuable. You should thank the patient for the complaint and provide an indication that you will act on the complaint,” he says. “You try to do service recovery on the spot and later you try to understand the genesis or root cause of the complaint. You want to reduce the chances that it will happen again. If you ignore every complaint, you will not improve.”

By taking the patient’s point of view, the physician can more likely see areas in a practice where he or she can make big improvements, Dr. Ellis says.

A softer science

Measuring the patient experience is hard for some physicians because there are no hard endpoints, Dr. Ellis says.

“What some physicians don’t like about the measurement of patient satisfaction is that it is a soft science,” he explains. “It does not have a specific outcome like measuring blood pressure or measuring cholesterol levels or measuring the reduction in the number of acne lesions. Yet many physicians may not recognize that satisfaction may be as important to the patient as the outcome.”

Dr. Ellis

Patients may continue to see a physician because they have a high degree of satisfaction with their patient experience in spite of a less-than-stellar medical outcome, Dr. Ellis says.

“You can have a patient who is very happy with his or her physician, but the medical outcome is not fabulous,” he says.

Today’s technology makes it easier to measure patient satisfaction. With the ubiquity of email, communication via mobile devices, and the growth in patient portals, doctors have a variety of channels through which to capture patient satisfaction, Dr. Ellis explains.  DT

 

Disclosures: Dr. Ellis reports no relevant financial interests.