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Top 4 Challenges in Driving High Patient Satisfaction

Providers need it identify challenges to driving high patient satisfaction in order to further the goal of patient-centered care.

Driving high patient satisfaction has several limiting challenges.

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Driving high patient satisfaction in healthcare is a challenging task. Patients are complex and unique, each with a different set of needs and preferences. Add to that the growing to-do list for today’s clinicians, and supporting patient satisfaction becomes increasingly demanding.

Healthcare is also changing, primarily by putting patients at the forefront of care. As value-based care models take hold, it is important that providers care for all aspects of the patient and meet her needs.

Providers must identify the top challenges to driving high patient satisfaction levels and develop targeted strategies to overcome them to yield optimal results.

Patients and providers are not on the same page

It is difficult for hospital leaders and providers to meet patient preferences when they are unsure of what those preferences are.

Recent survey data from Kelton Global on behalf of West Healthcare showed that patients and providers aren’t always on the same page when it comes to expectations about patient care.

READ MORE: How Hospitals Can Raise Patient Satisfaction, CAHPS Scores

Although over 90 percent of both patient and provider respondents said patient satisfaction is a top priority for them, patients and providers did not always agree on what constitutes a satisfactory care experience.

Patient respondents were asked to list the top factors influencing patient satisfaction, with them reporting the following:

From highest priority to lowest, patients valued:

  • Short appointment wait times
  • Access to out-of-pocket cost estimates
  • Not feeling rushed during appointments
  • Providers who demonstrate expertise during treatment
  • Easy appointment scheduling

These priorities did not match the top five factors for providers, which were as follows:

  • Friendly and accommodating clinic staff
  • Easy appointment scheduling
  • Short appointment wait times
  • Improving patient-provider communication
  • Clean and modern facilities

However, the patient satisfaction cause is not lost, the survey authors said. Although providers are not always sure of what will drive patient satisfaction, they are dedicated to creating a good experience for their patients.

READ MORE: Patient Satisfaction and HCAHPS: What It Means for Providers

“Despite some mismatched priorities, only five percent of providers state that creating a positive patient experience is not a high priority,” the authors pointed out. “This suggests that providers want to make improvements and feel they are doing what is necessary to improve patient satisfaction, even if they don’t always understand what is most important to patients.”

While national surveys such as this are helpful in pinpointing which aspects of care patients value, industry experts suggested individual hospitals or health systems conduct their own internal surveys to determine what is important to their specific patient populations.

Internal surveys tend to yield larger response rates. The surveys also reflect more patient backgrounds because they are issued to all patients or caregivers as opposed to a sample patient population.

Time constraints limit patient-provider communication

Creating a deep and empathic relationship with the patient is an important strategy for building patient satisfaction. However, these relationships are lagging as nurses and physicians become more pressed for time.

“When I talk about making a connection with patients and the six themes of compassionate, connected care, nobody ever argues against it,” Press Ganey’s Chief Nursing Officer Christie Dempsey, MSN, CNOR, CENP, said in a previous interview. “Everybody wants to do that. The pushback is always not having the time. Nurses say, ‘you must be joking if you think I can spend 15 to 20 minutes with every patient.’”

READ MORE: Patient Satisfaction Data Transparency Aids Hospital Performance

Building a strong relationship with the patient doesn’t have to take that long, Dempsey argued. Nurses can forge a deep relationship with a patient within an average of one or two minutes. The key is to start with commonalities, to consult with the patient on their care, and then to connect back to that shared interest again.

“In truth, there aren’t even six degrees of separation between us,” Dempsey explained. “We can always find something in common that will make a personal interaction. And when I’m ready to wrap up that interaction, I always conclude with that connection.”

Industry leaders have developed other quick tips to help drive the patient communication experience. Nurses and doctors who sit down when they talk to patients tend to meet patient satisfaction measures more often than those who do not.

According to one study, nurses who ask, “may I sit with you while we talk?” yield better results because they acknowledge with the patient that they are going to have a personal moment. In one hospital that piloted the strategy, patient satisfaction scores rose from the ninth to the 43rd percentile.

Difficulty incorporating family members in care

When patients receive care, they are hardly ever the only concerned party in the exam room. Many patients, regardless of age, have some sort of family or caregiver support system joining in the care encounter. Oftentimes, these stakeholders influence patient satisfaction nearly as much as the individual receiving treatment.

“In my experience, a patient’s experience in large part is directly related to their family members’ experiences while they wait,” said Michael Madewell, practice administrator at Panama City Surgery Center.

“Patient experiences will be dependent upon what their family members say about how they were treated. Were they communicated with in pre-op? Were they given the instructions clearly for family and the patient? Those types of things influence a patient’s satisfaction with their procedures.”

Strong family engagement is characterized as having clear communication strategies, strong education, and preparation for taking care of the patient once they are discharged at home. These tasks are essential because most patients are discharged into the care of a family member.

Most healthcare organizations have taken to assigning family engagement leaders, or individuals charged with teaching loved ones the important tasks – medication management or wound dressing – that will keep the patient safe upon discharge.

Separating quality care from hospital amenities

Many healthcare professionals fear that driving patient satisfaction means meeting superficial patient needs – a fluffy bed or gourmet food, for example. While meeting any patient need is important, clinicians are less concerned with providing a five-star experience than they are with offering quality care and treating their patients with dignity and respect.

However, industry experts contend that patient satisfaction and quality care do not need to be mutually exclusive. As noted in the Kelton Global/West Healthcare survey, patients are looking for a provider who will give them high quality healthcare.

Deirdre Mylod, PhD, Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation and Senior Vice President of Research and Analytics at Press Ganey said that driving patient satisfaction is about offering quality care that will protect patients from an adverse event.

“The way that we approach improvement for patient experience measures is to reframe it. The exercise is not to make consumers happy. The exercise is to reduce patient suffering,” Mylod said in an interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com.

Reducing patient suffering will require apt clinical skills for doctors and nurses. However, it will also require those individuals to be attentive to patient needs.

Does the patient want to switch the channel on their television? Clinicians must make sure patients can safely reach the remote so they do not strain themselves or inadvertently fall. That level of attentiveness will ultimately improve patient outcomes, Mylod explained.

Achieving high patient satisfaction scores is no easy feat. Providers have several duties to attend to, including the diagnostic and treatment process, documenting and charting, and staying on top of professional development.

However, as healthcare becomes more value-based and patient-centric, forging a positive relationship with patients will be increasingly important. Clinicians cannot hope to thrive in the changing healthcare industry without taking note of how they treat their patients.

Providers can make sure they are not leaving gaps in care – both emotional and literal – by developing strategies to determine patient needs. Additionally, clinicians must identify tactics for showing empathy and creating meaningful connections with patients within the tight time parameters in which they currently practice.