The Key Factors That Determine Patient Satisfaction

Patient satisfaction is becoming a more valued measure than it ever has been in the past. Physician online rating sites have proliferated, making patient satisfaction part of the public domain.

Patient satisfaction is becoming a more valued measure than it ever has been in the past. Physician online rating sites have proliferated, making patient satisfaction part of the public domain. And, efforts to tie reimbursement to patient satisfaction have been suggested by payers and consumers, with few healthcare systems already adopting compensation methods that pay physicians based on metrics that include a patient satisfaction component.

Surprisingly; however, it appears that patient satisfaction is not necessarily associated with physician competence, or even with patient outcome. In general, physicians strive for quality. Yet, patient satisfaction is oddly not linked with quality. The most important determinant of patient satisfaction lies in how much health care a patient feels that he or she has received.

Patient satisfaction depends on the severity of illness

It turns out that patients who go to the emergency room for medical emergencies are more satisfied with their care than patients who go to the emergency room for less serious medical issues. In fact, one study showed that patients who have emergent health care issues perceive their wait time to be shorter, while patients with less serious medical issues perceive their wait times to be longer, even when the documented wait times do not match the patient's sense of time.

As a physician, these matters affect you, even though they are out of your hands. While it may seem frustrating, it is understandable. Patients who are in greater danger are naturally more likely to be more grateful for their medical care, even if the outcome is worse than patients who are not as sick. While wait times are shorter for patients who are in grave danger than they are for patients who are not in immediate danger, patients perceive that the gap is larger than it is.

Patient satisfaction depends on the number of tests and medical interventions

Another factor that influences patient satisfaction lies in how many tests and interventions a patient receives. Patients who are scheduled for many diagnostic tests after seeing the doctor are generally more satisfied with their care than patients who are scheduled for fewer tests or no tests. And the more intervention a patient receives, the more satisfied with the medical visit.

This may be frustrating for physicians, who are taught in medical training to focus on strong diagnostic skill and safe medical intervention. After training, practicing physicians are often encouraged to control patient care costs. But, ironically, it is higher patient care costs that ultimately lead to more satisfied patients.

What can you do?

It is important to understand where patients are coming from. Patients who are dealing with life threatening medical situations are understandably more grateful when they survive. A patient who learns that he was not as sick as he thought may feel grateful, but not necessarily satisfied with the medical care. Just simply grateful that the situation didn't turn out as bad as anticipated. This doesn't always imply dissatisfaction with the doctor. But a long wait time for a 'small problem,' can ironically make some patients to feel as if you wasted too much of their time on a minor problem.

When it comes to using resources, patients who feel that you are giving then attention, that you consider their problem important and that you aren't holding back any options are more likely to be satisfied. Patients who do not get tests upon leaving the doctors office may feel that the doctor is minimizing their concerns. Also, when patients find out that nothing was wrong, they may feel embarrassed to have asked for help with something 'normal,' and resent the doctor.

One way to deal with this is to explain to patients their concerns are valid, but that a certain diagnostic test is not the right test for his or her exact situation. Understanding that patients need to have their issues addressed in a tangible way can help improve patient satisfaction.