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Ross University School of Medicine
AAEM/RSA Social Media Committee
Patient satisfaction has become more important recently for various reasons. Surveys have been developed to measure patients’ perspective of their hospital care. Such surveys ask about patients’ communication with various staff, experience in the hospital, and their overall rating. While certain aspects of patient satisfaction has been studied in the past, performance on the surveys is now being coupled to insurance reimbursements, further encouraging the study of how to please patients.
Patient satisfaction is multifactorial and includes patient-, physician-, and system-related factors. For example, when looking at health status as a patient-related factor, patients with poorly-controlled diabetes are less satisfied. When looking at a system-related factor, such as the clinical team, one study found that aside from the physician’s care, it was the staff’s promptness, compassion, and willingness to help that were next in importance in patient satisfaction. In other words, a physician might not have the best patient satisfaction if their patient has poorly-controlled diabetes and a nurse who is perceived to not have compassion or a willingness to help, despite the quality of the physician’s care. Therefore, it is important for the physician to influence patient satisfaction in areas over which he or she has control.
There are quite a few physician-related factors involved in patient satisfaction, ranging from appearance to time spent with the patient to technical skill. Communication is one method for influencing patient satisfaction that has been well studied. While the following communication strategies are not an exhaustive list, they have been shown to significantly improve patient satisfaction.
- Address patients by their first name. Most patients want to be called by their first name, be introduced to the doctor by his or her full name and title, and see a name badge.
- Avoid interrupting the patient early in the interview. Listening is part of communication. Allowing patients to speak reduces late-arising concerns.
- Ask open-ended questions. Allowing the patient to express how her or she feels increases patient satisfaction compared to asking closed-ended questions.
- Use the word “something” rather than “anything” when eliciting concerns. For example, “Is there something else I can help you with?” is more effective without increasing the duration of the visit.
- Show lab results and explain what they mean. A study found this reduces anxiety and builds trust early in the doctor-patient relationship.
- Explain a medical condition. In doing so, it is crucial to use terminology that is appropriate to the patient’s education level.
- Express statements of empathy. Patient-perceived empathy significantly improves patient satisfaction. One can employ various techniques: naming — “it seems like you are feeling…”; understanding — “I can imagine what that would feel like”; respecting — “You have been through a lot.”[11,12]
- Touch the patient. A social touch such as during a clinical examination and/or handshake is associated with perceived empathy, though it is important to read the interaction to ensure this will be well received.
- Smile, nod, lean in. Non-verbal cues are associated with increased patient satisfaction.
1. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The HCAHPS Survey - Frequently Asked Questions. Baltimore, MD. Available at: https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Quality-Initiatives-Patient-Assessment-instruments/HospitalQualityInits/Downloads/HospitalHCAHPSFactSheet201007.pdf
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