Recently, Dr. Sosena Kebede, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Department of Medicine Associate Faculty, the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, completed a study titled: “Patient Satisfaction & Quality of Care May Not Be Directly Associated.”
The three key findings of her study have significant implications in the area of reputation management and the decision-making process on how to improve patient perception. While the findings are not unexpected, they bring to light issues that all healthcare professionals, from small, private practices to large hospitals, are likely to face as they interact with patients. Let’s explore these findings and extrapolate key issues that medical professionals should be seeking to improve in order to boost patient satisfaction.
Patient’s Knowledge of Diagnosis Is Suboptimal
Suboptimal knowledge of diagnosis is mainly rooted in poor shared understanding. This means the medical doctor makes assumptions about the base-knowledge of a patient versus the real base-knowledge. Frequently, a poorly understood diagnostic results in incorrect perceptions regarding the severity of the issue or prognosis.
For example, a patient may not know the difference between a cyst, a benign tumor, and a malign tumor. Thus, he or she may confuse a cyst with something more severe. Consequently, he or she may have increased anxiety associated with the diagnostic, and then wrongly perceive that the situation is not being handled with the seriousness that cancer demands, based on the level of care received. These situations often escalate in the minds of patients and their families and result in decreased satisfaction with the level of care, which translates into poor scores in general-satisfaction surveys and unsolicited doctor or hospital reviews.
How to Tackle This Challenge
The study conducted by Dr. Kebede identified a correlation between maturity, educational level, and other demographic factors impacting the correlation between what the doctor is conveying and what the patient understands. To best address this problem, doctors must make it a point to adapt their communication skills in a way that is better aligned with the understanding of each patient. In short, when it comes to conveying a diagnostic, doctors cannot be formulaic or use a one-size-fits-all approach. Spending additional time with a patient to allow for Q&A can be significantly useful in improving patient satisfaction as it relates to the conveyance of their diagnostic.
Direction on How and When to Take Medication Is Unclear
A second but equally important consideration is the way patients are receiving direction regarding treatment. Patients lacking clarity on how to take their medication, its side effects, and contraindications often have poorer results when it comes to the efficacy of their treatment. Doctors, again, make assumptions about the patient’s knowledge as it relates to pharmaceuticals. The number of direct complaints associated with medication choices is continually on the rise.
How to Correct This Trend and Make the Medication Panorama Clear to Patients
Improving scores in satisfaction surveys as well as reviews posted on popular medical review sites, such as Healthgrades.com and Vitals.com, needs to be addressed by multiple departments and individuals involved in the care of the patient.
In the case of medications, there are several health professionals that have an enhanced duty to help the patient understand and follow doctor’s instructions. There are also multiple means to provide clarity, aside from verbal communication. Nurses, nurse practitioners, and aids can provide additional clarification to patients in a language tailored to the educational and cultural background of each patient. In addition, pharmacies and pharmaceutical distributors can work toward crafting instructions aimed at providing clear instructions for the patient. Finally, in some cases, it may be necessary to resort to iconography to further clarify the message for patients with limited reading skills. This might include illustrations of dairy crossed out to demonstrate a contraindication, or a small picture of a car, also crossed out, to highlight the risks of driving while taking the medication. A patient that understands when and how to take his or her medication and what side effects to expect is less likely to convey a negative opinion about a doctor or a hospital.
Understanding About Procedures and Tests Is Minimal
Because of the complexities associated with procedures and tests, it is quite difficult for healthcare professionals to efficiently and effectively convey the details associated with a procedure in way that can be understood by someone with a very basic grasp of medical concepts, or a language barrier. Because procedures are usually both stressful and expensive, creating conditions conducive to a positive customer experience is highly difficult, and it becomes even more challenging when the doctor’s best effort to convey details fails to provide the patient with clarity.
How to Improve Patient Satisfaction Associated with Tests and Procedures
Many private medical practices, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities have opted to maintain professionally written and illustrated brochures in several languages, explaining common procedures and tests. These brochures can certainly be helpful in reducing the number of negative patient reviews and surveys, but they always need to be accompanied by verbal clarification, and all patients should be given an opportunity to ask questions regarding the procedure.
Before a patient undergoes a procedure or test, he or she should be able to answer the basics: when, how, how long, how much, and if there will be pain or other secondary effects associated with the test or procedure.
Generating new patient leads and reimbursement percentages from insurance companies are now directly correlated to the level of patient satisfaction. Healthcare facilities that take a hands-on approach to reputation and review management and work diligently to try to understand the root cause of patient dissatisfaction are generally able to quickly correct trends and implement policies aimed at boosting how patients perceive their overall experience, their practitioner, and the hospital. Many of the quick fixes available don’t require any capital investment or technological upgrades; they are simply based on the understanding that patients have relational and communicational needs that are frequently neglected but easy to correct.