Why Patient Satisfaction Should Be Even More Important to Healthcare Providers Today.
The HSM Group, Ltd.
Healthcare organizations that don’t make patient satisfaction a priority risk losing market share, financial gain, and employee retention. Whether you attribute the movement toward patient-centered healthcare to things like increased transparency, skepticism about doctors and health plans, or an industry-wide push to improve quality outcomes, the healthcare industry is evolving and there are a number of compelling reasons why improving satisfaction should be high on the agenda of all healthcare providers.
Beginning March 2008, consumers have access to results of patient satisfaction data on hospitals as they have not had before. The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) is a public reporting initiative in which adult patients rate their experiences of hospital care and services. Public reporting via HCAHPS is expected to increase the transparency of the care provided in return for the public investment and participation is required for general acute care hospitals in order to maintain eligibility for full reimbursement updates from CMS. CMS publicly reports results on Hospital Quality Alliance’s (HQA) Web site, Hospital Compare (www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov).
Satisfaction that can be measured also offers the potential for higher compensation. Measuring satisfaction has become commonplace and providers (both hospitals and physicians) will be increasingly expected to participate in more pay-for-performance (P4P) programs where bonuses and basic compensation levels will be derived in part or in total, from patient satisfaction scores. P4P programs are being offered by a wider array of stakeholders, such as health plans and employers. One example of a P4P program that has paid out millions to medical groups in California was launched in July 2000 through The Integrated Healthcare Association (IHA), which formed a high-level working group of purchasers, health plan medical directors, and physician group executives and medical directors. In 2004, payments to physician practices in California totaled $35 million. There are other examples of P4P programs where a portion of compensation (say 15%) is determined by patient satisfaction scores, and, while not the norm, there are also more aggressive P4P programs where as much as 100% of a physician’s total compensation is related to patient satisfaction scores.
Satisfied customers reduce the likelihood of litigation – happier, more compliant patients translate into lower malpractice risk. A June 2002 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that lawsuits were significantly related to total numbers of patient complaints, even when data were adjusted for physicians’ volume of clinical activity. So, the bottom line is that more satisfied patients are less likely to file medical malpractice lawsuits.
Satisfaction is not only good for the patient but also good for the provider. Studies have indicated that providers who show higher levels of professional satisfaction also have more satisfied patients. Another study showed a correlation between patient satisfaction and outcomes; results indicated that patients who were more satisfied were also more compliant and more likely to have more successful outcomes.
Satisfied patients can result in higher workforce retention. Research by Press Ganey shows a relationship between employee satisfaction, patient satisfaction, and quality of care as an interactive, reinforcing relationship. Not only do satisfied employees deliver better care, but working for an organization that values patients and delivers quality drives employee satisfaction, retention, and loyalty.
Satisfied customers contribute to a positive image in the community, lower patient turnover, and the potential for less money spent marketing. Let’s not forget that it costs more to replace a lost customer than keep a satisfied one and that unhappy patients influence their friends and family away from the providers at perhaps twice the rate satisfied customers refer patients to a provider.
While any of these reasons alone might make a valid argument for why healthcare organizations need to think about patient satisfaction, when looked at in combination, the evidence is undeniable. Patient satisfaction is important, and providers who want to be viable, competitive, and quality-focused would do well to not underestimate the importance of meeting patients’ expectations.