Follow Us:

Follow AutoData Systems on TwitterFollow AutoData Systems on LinkedInFollow AutoData Systems on FacebookFollow AutoData Systems on YouTube
AutoData Systems > patient satsifaction

Are patient experience and happiness the same thing?

Patient satisfaction is undoubtedly a much debated topic in the health practitioner world. It is an obviously complicated and complex issue that elicits many different opinions, many of them very passionate ones. The passion over the topic is understandable as healthcare is currently undergoing massive changes, including tying a larger percentage of doctor pay directly to patient satisfaction.  There has been a recent influx of articles suggesting that patient satisfaction doesn’t work, that it is holding back advances in care, and that it is even tied to higher death rates (a handful of articles have referred to a study showing higher patient satisfaction was correlated with higher mortality rates. Thankfully correlation isn’t causation; otherwise a doctor’s goal would be to provide poor care).

Of course, patient satisfaction is far from perfect. Therefore, we should try to improve it as opposed to damn it. At its core, patient satisfaction attempts to measure the patient’s overall experience.  One way to improve patient satisfaction is to understand what it is NOT (or should not be). Patient satisfaction (or experience) is not patient happiness. Though, happiness is part of the overall experience.

Dr. David Tilstra makes a great point in a recent article differentiating patient experience and patient happiness:

“Patient experience is not to be confused with patient happiness. We are not Disney World: We are a health care delivery system. Everything we do will not make people happy, but they still can be satisfied and can have a good experience with their health care.”

An unhappy patient doesn’t necessarily always make for an unsatisfied one – a hospital is not a restaurant. At the same time, patient happiness is still part of the overall experience. Dr. Tilstra goes on to explain that by correctly prioritizing the levels of care provided, the patient experience is improved. The three levels of prioritized care Dr. Tilstra outlines are: patient safety, providing high quality care, and delivery of care. All three contribute to a patient’s overall experience. The last level – how care is delivered – is usually associated with patient happiness. Therefore, patient happiness is a part of the equation, but at the bottom of the three priorities.

The point is not to sacrifice safety and quality of care in the name of patient happiness – in other words, making sure the patient is happy at all costs is never in the patient’s best interest. With the large amount of significance placed on patient satisfaction it is easy to lose focus on the most important part of the equation: providing high quality care (sometimes at the expense of patient happiness). I am convinced that if a health system focuses on patient safety and quality care, the patient will have a positive experience. The goal is to perform all three priorities of care exceptionally, but remember that (the first) two outta three ain’t bad.

The Problem[s] With Patient Satisfaction Surveys

Measuring patient satisfaction and quality of care has become a much talked about topic lately. Due to changes in federal law, Medicare reimbursements paid to hospitals are now tied to patient satisfaction scores. These new laws give hospitals even more incentive to improve patient satisfaction and experience – which, in theory, is a good thing. Doctors (and hospitals) should be subject to feedback and held accountable for their work. There are, however, problems with patient satisfaction surveys.

Dr. Christopher Johnson writes in a recent article that patient satisfaction surveys – as currently used – are “riddled with problems.” Dr. Johnson goes on to say, “they [surveys] don’t measure what they are suppose to measure and they can easily drive physician behavior the wrong way.” Dr. Johnson refers to his survey tools as made and facilitated by Press Ganey. Press Ganey is a massive corporation that provides hospitals and health systems full service patient experience solutions, in which Press Ganey writes, distributes, and collects the surveys and data. As such, hospitals using Press Ganey’s services essentially outsource all of their patient satisfaction and survey measurement. Dr. Johnson writes, “I’ve read the Press Ganey forms and the questions they ask are all very reasonable.” This quote raises a red flag that perhaps Dr. Johnson misses: Dr. Johnson is not, nor is anyone at his organization, writing the questions on their patient satisfaction surveys. It makes the most sense for those who are trying to benefit from collecting their own patients’ data to write their own surveys. Those closest to the patients and those working in the hospital are better suited to understand the different context and circumstances surrounding the measurement of patient satisfaction. Instead of a Press Ganey employee 800 miles away writing survey questions and processing the data; the doctors, nurses, and administrators should be more involved in the process of measuring quality of care. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all survey.

Dr. Johnson also speaks of the poor sample sizes used to collect the data; “[a]lthough the forms are sent out to a random sample of patients, a very non-random distribution of them are returned. Perhaps only the patients who are happy, or those who are unhappy, send them back.” This very well could be true, but it is most likely an easy fix. Again, each hospital knows (or should know) the best way to collect data from their patients. Generally, for most hospitals, the best way is with in-person paper surveys. Surveying the patient while still on site raises response rates and ensures that the sample size is more random than the one Dr. Johnson describes. Along with higher response rates, a patient’s memory of her experience is fresher when surveyed on-site and therefore the data is more accurate.

Dr. Johnson is correct in saying that patient satisfaction surveys “as currently used are riddled with problems,” but there are solutions to these problems. Understanding the quality of care provided by a doctor or a hospital or a nurse is too important to ignore or be discouraged by those obstacles. The healthcare world has been talking about measuring patient satisfaction for decades yet still have a long way to go. Getting rid of patient satisfaction surveys is not the solution. Acknowledging constructive criticism about the process and fostering open debate about improving patient satisfaction is the solution.

Is Patient Satisfaction Overrated?

A recent article on Forbes.com asked an interesting question: is patient satisfaction overrated? The question is an important one and warrants more discussion. The article (found here) uses Dr. House, the rude but extremely effective fictional doctor from the Fox television series “House,” to analogize that perhaps patient satisfaction doesn’t always equal quality health care. The author – Steven Salzberg – attempts to make the point that while Dr. House is abrasive and his patients do not have the best experience, they do receive the best care. Salzberg writes that even though large scale reforms in healthcare are pushing the importance of patient satisfaction, better patient satisfaction scores are not necessarily correlated with better care. Essentially, instead of giving patients what they want, doctors should give them what they need. Salzberg doesn’t just use the “House” analogy; he cites a study that shows higher patient satisfaction rates being tied to higher costs and higher death rates.

AutoData agrees with some of the author’s points and disagrees with others. AutoData couldn’t agree more with the premise that doctors must give their patients what they need as opposed to simply what they want. And we are not disputing the study Salzberg cites (though we’re unsure of the context and specifics of the study). However, Salzberg asserts that measuring patient satisfaction in general is the overall problem; AutoData believes the problem is in how patient satisfaction is measured.

“For patients who think a nice doctor is a good doctor, this might come as very disappointing news,” writes Salzberg. If surveys are asking patients questions like, “Was your doctor nice?” or “Did they communicate well with you?” or “Did you have a nice time?”, of course these metrics are hollow and should not be correlated with better care. But that doesn’t mean patient satisfaction doesn’t work, it means the provider of care must change how and what to measure. In other words, identify the data that will lead to better care and measure for that. Collecting data which shows that the care administered was superior will not always be the same as the data that shows the patient had a good time (AutoData discusses this in a post about the differences between patient experience and patient satisfaction here).

Salzberg also touched on the infamous standardized hospital survey, HCAHPS. He writes that Dr. House would fail this survey with flying colors, which is probably true. A one-size-fits-all, nationally standardized survey doesn’t make sense to us either. Hospitals and health clinics operate under different circumstances and contexts serving different demographics; measuring them against each other under one standardized survey is asinine. Hospitals have different objectives, goals, and ideas about delivering quality care, so why limit the ways they measure satisfaction and experience? Let the hospitals be in charge of the data they collect, ultimately it will lead to their success or their demise. The most encouraging trend AutoData has seen over the last 4 years is the consumeraztion of health care (AutoData wrote about it here). Due to advances in technology and the internet, healthcare consumers have been given a more powerful voice and as a consequence will continue to have more choices in care providers, ultimately forcing health systems to provide higher quality care. Therefore, it’s arguably more important than ever for health systems to measure patient satisfaction and experience. If the health system effectively listens to their patients through patient experience measurements, they can improve their service, advertise their superior service, and ultimately grow.

Salzberg’s article narrowly misses the point. It isn’t that patient satisfaction is overrated or unnecessary, but health systems must adapt to measure and collect the right kind of data. The right kind of data is data that will improve their care, not data that assesses whether a doctor is nice. When the right kind of data is measured and collected they can use it to persuade potential consumers to choose them as their provider of care. In that case, measuring the right kind of patient satisfaction is grossly underrated.

Form Scanning Software Will Help Hospital Scribes (and generate more revenue)

The efficient use of a simple solution to a big problem helped make Allina Health an extra $205,000 last year.

As technology advances in health care seek to drive down costs and improve overall efficiency, many doctors have felt frustration in the learning of new technological processes and systems. One such technological change causing issues is the process of converting to electronic-medical-record systems. Katharine Grayson of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal recently wrote an article about how Allina dealt with doctors frustrated with the amount of time spent in front of computers as opposed to patients.

The article (found here) follows Allina Health cardiologist Dr. Alan Bank and his simple solution to the problem of spending too much time in front of a computer. “I didn’t feel like I could focus on the patient. I felt like I was duplicating things. It just seemed like a lot of excessive data entry,” Dr. Bank told Grayson. Dr. Bank’s answer was simple: scribes. After Dr. Bank saw emergency room doctors using scribes, he thought he should do the same for cardiologists. The scribes – trained medical personnel who specialize in charting physician-patient encounters during medical exams – joined the doctors during patient visits to take notes and enter data.

Dr. Bank studied the results and noted that over the course of 65 clinic hours, doctors with scribes saw 210 patients while doctors without scribes saw 129. The difference in additional number of patients visited translated into a significant difference in additional revenue for Allina – roughly $205,000. One very important detail of the study is that the patients with scribes were at least as satisfied with their experience as those who didn’t have scribes. Although Dr. Bank’s solution was extremely simple, it proved extremely successful. He now sees 30% more patients then he used to yet feels less overwhelmed.

However, we can’t help but think about the scribes, who are most likely in charge of manually entering all of that data now. If only there was a way in which they could collect patient data and scan it into a computer that automatically enters it into a database. That would improve efficiency and allow scribes to see more patients with their doctors, which in turn, creates more revenue for (enter your hospital name here). Now, imagine if  you could find software that could do that . . . (hint: www.autodata.com).

Patients or consumers?

“The health care landscape is changing.”

That phrase – or some variation of that phrase – has been used ad-nauseam in recent years (we’re guilty of using it). The phrase has become cliché, as most people are aware that massive change in healthcare is underway through government reform referred to as ObamaCare. Although a large portion of the general population understands that change is happening, I don’t think they are sure – present company included – what the change means or where it is headed. Further complicating things is the change happening unrelated to ObamaCare, due to advances in technology and changes in consumer sentiment. You read that correctly, consumer, not patient.

In basically every industry outside of health care, when change is needed, the consumers drive the change whether individual businesses are ready or not. The customer knows best, after all. With the advent of Yelp!, Google reviews, Angie’s List, and countless social media sites, consumers have been given a much larger voice – and businesses have been listening. But until recently, health care hasn’t listened. In 2014 and beyond, the hospitals and health systems that don’t start listening to their consumers will be left behind – quickly.

“Despite controlling nearly 20% of the economy, traditional healthcare is years if not decades behind other industries when it comes to adopting a business model and technologies that assess and meet consumer needs.”

The quote comes from a recent HealthLeadersMedia interview (found here) with Chris Wasden, a global healthcare innovation leader and SVP at PwC. The interview discusses recent empowerment of health care consumers who are now willing (and eager) to “dump the doctor’s office for cheaper and more convenient retail and remote alternatives that could amount to tens of billions of dollars of lost revenues if they fail to adapt.”

In short, if health systems want to survive they need to adapt. Step 1: Treat patients as consumers:

“Whether it’s the pharmaceutical companies, device makers, payers, or providers, nobody considers the patient as their customer so they’ve never tried to come up with solutions that were consumer-friendly or consumer-centric.”

Treating them as consumers forces a hospital to frame the experience they provide differently. If they frame it correctly, they will improve the consumer’s experience for the better. Framing it correctly depends on Step 2.

Step 2: listen to the consumers. Ask them. Survey them. Gather the data and use it to make consumer-friendly choices that enhance the experience and the care. Framing patients as consumers means asking different questions than ones found in typical patient satisfaction surveys or HCAPHS surveys. Ask about every conceivable positive or negative experience and then implement the proper changes. This will improve the experience and when you improve the experience and the care, the consumer will follow. The health systems that do this will flourish, the health systems that don’t will flounder. It is painfully simple.

Is there a difference between patient satisfaction and patient experience?

If so, how should both be measured?

“Patient experience and satisfaction is the No. 1 priority for healthcare executives, according to the HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey 2013—above clinical quality, cost reduction, and many other burning issues.”

In the constantly evolving healthcare landscape, one thing is clear: delivering quality care is paramount. As the above quote suggests, patient experience and patient satisfaction are coveted key indicators of delivering quality care. The quote – from an article in HealthLeaders magazine, found here – goes on to explain why patient satisfaction and experience is the number one priority for healthcare execs:

“With the emergence and acceleration of both Medicare-approved and commercial accountable care organizations, there is a new sense of urgency for some health systems to improve their patient experience, particularly because it is one of 33 benchmarks Medicare-approved ACOs have to meet in order to qualify for the incentive payment.”

The quotes provoke a few interesting thoughts. The obvious one is that patient satisfaction and experience have never been more important. Yet, another thought begs the question: is there a difference between patient satisfaction and patient experience? Although closely related, there are certainly a few nuances differentiating the two.

Hospitals have the well-known HCAHPS – a core set of pre-determined survey questions – that they rely on to measure patient satisfaction. HCAHPS has proved successful at measuring patient satisfaction but it doesn’t necessarily get to the heart of patient experience. “Patient satisfaction and experience are closely tied together, but they are not the same,” says Press Ganey CEO, Patrick Ryan. Ryan goes on to explain:

“‘It [patient experience] is much more than just patient satisfaction,’ he says. ‘The confusion that some folks come into the industry with is that patient satisfaction is about keeping people happy, but it couldn’t be further from that because when people enter the health system, they’re coming in at one of the most complex and stressful times in their life. And what they want most from the experience is communication and understanding of what their condition is, the path to the best possible health they can achieve, and a way in which to coordinate that with their clinicians and staff to ensure that they get there.”

While HCAHPS’s standardized questions work for measuring patient satisfaction, measuring patient experience doesn’t work with one uniform set of questions. It requires multiple surveys with a variety of questions attempting to measure a variety of different topics and experiences – something that HCAHPS doesn’t do. The best way to find out if a patient is experiencing good communication from nurses and doctors or whether the patient fully understands her condition is not with a standardized 32 question survey. Those types of experiences are best measured with specific, detailed questions in the context of each situation.  “Real change begins to happen when physicians, nurses, and staff hear the voice of the customer, the voice of the patient,” Kevin Gwin – VP of communications for Ardent Health Services – is quoted saying in the article, “and you’ll have incremental improvement that turns into transformational change.”

In order for a hospital to take incremental improvement and turn it into transformational change, they must understand the difference between patient satisfaction and patient experience. Perhaps more importantly, they must understand the difference in measuring the two. In the end,  greater patient experience will translate into greater patient satisfaction which in turn will lead to a higher HCAHPS score.