Secrets To Bolstering Patient Satisfaction

By David Edward Marcinko, MBA, CFP, CMP, and Gary L. Bode, CPA, MSA

Understand The Variables That Can Affect Patient Satisfaction

   Patient satisfaction can be affected by many variables. Most patients do not predefine what would be “acceptable” from their encounter, but have vaguely defined ranges of prior expectations that are gleaned from a lifetime of healthcare related experience. Any variance between this “acceptable” range of expectations and each trivial encounter invokes some degree of positive or negative feeling in the patient.    The total perception of the office experience is an aggregate of multiple trivial and often subliminal observations. Patient satisfaction is complicated by:    Inter-patient variables. There may be a significant difference among patients in their “podiatric expectations.”    Intra-patient variables. A single patient can perceive the same thing or situation differently at different times, depending on uncontrollable variables like mood or context of occurrence which the practice could (sometimes and/or partially) control.    “Luck of the draw” in physical variables. Does Sally or Mary escort the patient to the exam room? Was it the blue or green exam room? Did the last patient who used the restroom leave a disgusting mess? Try to eliminate problems that might cause negative perceptions and implement controls to help ensure positive perceptions.    Heterogeneous staff variables. Even with appropriate training, people have their own individual quirks.

Emphasize Problem Prevention

   When trying to manage variables in the office to bolster patient satisfaction, it may be easier for most practitioners to start with avoidance strategies.    One can anticipate and prevent detrimental patient encounter issues. Have the staff list everything they have seen as problems in the past. These problems may include things like prolonged waits, dirty bathrooms, getting an answering machine instead of a person, loud patient arguments over bills, etc.    The first priority one should address is any haphazard, sloppy office procedures. From the patient’s perspective, any administrative mix-up (double billing, lost records, staff problems) can create a perception of poor practice management and patients may even take this a step further and link it to poor clinical quality. Logically streamlining operations can eliminate many possible impediments to patient satisfaction.    Revamping your scheduling procedure can help reduce the wait. Remember, solutions have to work for you as well as patients. One must balance decreased waiting time with optimal work capacity. Again, perception is important. An empty reception area, while optimal for minimal wait, may make patients wonder why you are not busier.    Freeing the receptionist from other duties at crucial times may ensure patients always get a person on the line. Emphasizing phone etiquette training may help phone efficiency. Getting other staff members to pitch in when needed is another possible solution.    Modifying billing policies and having a soundproof room in which to discuss them may help isolate one irate patient’s squabble.

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