April 13, 2017

True or false: Patient satisfaction is important.

Obviously the answer is true, but take that question a step further and ask: Do patient satisfaction surveys work?

That answer isn't as black and white.

These surveys form the traditional basis of how healthcare systems evaluate themselves, but healthcare consultants who understand the importance of consumer experience are increasingly advocating for the use of additional methods to measure patients' expectations.

The patient experience is now consumer experience and includes many clinical and nonclinical touchpoints across your health system. From the moment a patient researches healthcare providers online, to the day he or she schedules an appointment on the phone, to the post-op appointment, the consumer's individual expectations are either being met or missed, greatly influencing their level of satisfaction.

Because of consumer expectations, patient satisfaction today is multi-layered, but it is also an opportunity for healthcare systems to differentiate themselves. Healthcare marketers who can crack the code of measuring satisfaction can use that data to promote how their healthcare systems stand out, and ultimately drive more revenue toward them.

But don't throw out the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and System (HCAHPS) survey yet — those performance scores are still the primary metric the government uses to award federal money. Rather, enhance your evaluation of the patient experience.

Identify which business outcomes benefit from satisfied consumers

Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Walmart, and Target know that high customer satisfaction translates to stronger loyalty, sales, and profits. But what healthcare systems need and want from patient satisfaction levels can vary widely. A study by McKinsey&Company that looked at how healthcare systems can learn from other successful businesses suggests that healthcare systems managers identify the specific positive result or results that they hope will come from higher patient satisfaction. These can be micro results, like more consumers using a healthcare system's online bill pay or scheduling tools, or they can be macro results, like greater patient retention or gaining a higher percentage of commercial patients.

Once you have identified the desired outcomes, start investigating the types of questions to ask patients to determine if you have achieved those outcomes. According to the McKinsey report, “A major U.S. health insurer discovered that customer agreement with the phrase '[Company Name] is the insurer for me' predicted loyalty in one of its most important member segments better than agreement with any other phrase." The insurer wanted to increase client retention in that segment and so began focusing on how to grow the portion of people who agreed with that sentence.

Break down the journey and identify the strongest influencers at each point

Imagine that the patient journey is like a series of connected square boxes on a board game. This will vary, of course, by market and patient segment (both of which you’ll need to identify and define first). But for expectant mothers, for example, the first box may be mobile research about a healthcare system. The second box could be online scheduling, the next few boxes may be check-in appointments, and down the road is a box marked Delivery Day. When the patient is in each box, what elements of care have the greatest impact on her satisfaction?

The journeys for different treatments should be charted separately — cardiovascular care is different than childbirth — and healthcare systems and marketers should conduct focus groups and surveys to identify the greatest influencers at each step of care for each category of patient.

The results can be surprising. For example, the McKinsey report cites a survey done by a major car rental company about what business class customers felt had the greatest impact on their rental experience. It was not, shockingly, the variety of cars available, but was the experience from landing at the airport to leaving the rental car place. When the company drilled down further it found that business class customers were happiest when they received confirmation about their arrival before landing, and when the rental process at the facility was fast. As a result, the company streamlined its in-facility rental process and invested in technology to give customers more automated updates. Which means, healthcare organizations shouldn't assume to already know what matters most to their consumers.

Break the factors down, and monitor in real-time

Once you identify what matters most to consumers at different points of interaction, break the factors down into their constituent parts. If a consumer says that nurse empathy is the most important factor on the day of surgery, track how much time an individual nurse spends with a patient, and attempt to make that the single largest point of care. Consultants call these key performance indicators and recommend that healthcare systems asses how the indicators are being met on a daily basis so that they can complement the monthly patient feedback surveys.

At Denver Health Medical Center, chief of hospital medicine Dr. Marisha Burden instituted a policy in 2014 where doctors asked three questions verbally to groups of patients on a daily or weekly basis. The questions asked patients to rank their doctors and nurses on listening, explaining, and being helpful, according to a study published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine last year. The results of the surveys helped the doctors stay more up to date on patient expectations and experience than the traditional surveys, and helped them adjust faster, resulting in higher patient satisfaction overall.

Understanding what particular business goals can benefit from happy consumers, breaking the patient satisfaction journey into steps that you can improve with specific actions, and monitoring how you're doing on those actions on a daily or even hourly basis can help improve satisfaction rates. While it is important to analyze your patient satisfaction survey data, it is equally important to monitor your online consumer reviews as they offer critical insight you can’t necessarily gain from surveys. Improved satisfaction rates can ultimately translate into increased services and better results for patients and doctors alike.

Want to see how you're doing on consumer engagement efforts outside of patient satisfaction surveys? Request a free healthcare marketing assessment.