By Stephanie Cuomo, RN

Conducting a comprehensive patient satisfaction survey is the best way to determine whether there is a meaningful gap between your patients’ expectations and their perceptions.

A patient’s expectations are simply defined as what they believe will happen before an event occurs, while perceptions are derived by their reaction to the experience after it has occurred. Ideally, there should be no gap between the two, but too often there is, especially in cosmetic, elective surgery.

The medical factors that can foster this gap include adverse reactions to anesthesia, bleeding, infections, necrosis, nerve damage, scarring, and seromas, all of which can be prevented. The overall perception of the “practice of the practice” also plays a role in any perceived gap.

One of the most important elements of maintaining a successful practice was, most likely, barely touched upon during medical school. In business, when there is an unacceptable gap between the customer’s level of expectation and their eventual perception, it is not uncommon to perform extensive market research to determine what’s causing the gap. The best way to perform your own market research and gauge your patients’ level of satisfaction is by utilizing a comprehensive patient satisfaction survey.

There are independent consulting firms that can work with your practice to design and analyze the survey. If your practice is a member of a medical malpractice insurance organization, it’s possible that the administration and analysis of a patient satisfaction survey is a member service, available for no additional cost. The reasoning for this is sound. It is a widely accepted axiom that happy patients are less likely to litigate.

Keep it Simple

Practices should have three general goals when they interact with patients: to provide quality health care, to make care accessible, and to treat patients with courtesy and respect. Therefore, survey questions should cover these three areas. The ultimate goal of a patient satisfaction
survey is not to assess whether or not the patient received thorough medical treatment; it is to ascertain what their perception of the practice is, and to assess the size of the gap between their initial expectations and their perceived quality of the actual visit.

Questions that get at these issues include:

Were you satisfied with the overall coordination of your visit, from the time you arrived until you were discharged?

Was the staff courteous and respectful?

Were you seen right away or kept waiting during your visit(s)?

Circle one: Dr. X was clear in his explanation of the surgery, risks, and complications. Strongly Agree or Strongly Disagree

Circle one: The appearance of the office was pleasing and comfortable. Strongly Agree or Strongly Disagree

Take Action

The survey is merely a means to an end. To ignore the results of the analysis would surely be a big mistake. Staff awareness of patient pain points is essential. If your receptionist was singled out in the surveys for being rude or dismissive, discuss the results with him or her and work with them to correct these perceptions.

If patients were put off by extensive wait times, take a look at process and procedures, including scheduling, to see what is causing the backlog. It is vital to utilize the results of a patient satisfaction survey to bridge the gap between a patient’s expectations and perceptions in order to address and improve upon any issues at your practice.

StephanieCuomo.jpgStephanie Cuomo, RN, is a senior risk management and patient safety specialist for the Cooperative of American Physicians Inc (CAP) in Los Angeles. She can be reached via [email protected].