Patient satisfaction is integral to the growth and profitability of a practice, and to the health and wellbeing of clients. According to a report by the Medical Group Management Association, close to 80% of practices that are “better-performing” use patient satisfaction surveys. In general, high performing practices are more likely to survey their patients and to do so more frequently than other practices. In addition, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, patients who experience better care are more likely to have better health outcomes.
But, what is patient satisfaction, and why is it such an important focus area for private healthcare practices?
What Is Patient Satisfaction?
Patient satisfaction is one of the most important yardsticks for measuring the quality of your healthcare. The main issue is that patient satisfaction is typically difficult to measure and define, making satisfaction surveys the most commonly used way to gauge how patients feel about their experience at a practice. The aim of the survey is to translate impressions and perceptions (qualitative data) into findings that are quantifiable and actionable.
Whether requested via email, online, or in-person, satisfaction surveys can address the many different touchpoints of the client’s experience with your practice, and can cover anything from staff friendliness to communication, quality of care and the practice environment.
With hundreds of templates available online, creating and customising your patient satisfaction survey can be quick and easy. Common questions you could consider covering include:
- Access to the practice (location, parking, ramps, etc.);
- Atmosphere (staff interactions with each other and clients);
- Communication (clients feel included in the management of their condition);
- Cleanliness (waiting room and therapy rooms);
- Willingness to recommend the practice (this indicates loyalty and, indirectly, the patient experience).
Why Is It Important to Focus on Patient Satisfaction?
Put simply: it’s good for your clients, good for your staff and good for your practice:
- Positive interactions with clients can increase the efficacy of your treatment. Even your words can influence symptom relief.
- Satisfied patients are loyal patients, and the cost of patient retention is a lot lower than patient acquisition.
- Satisfied clients bring in new clients either via word-of-mouth or by boosting your online reputation.
With a clearer idea of what patient satisfaction is and why it’s important for your practice, we’ll shift our attention to successfully implementing patient satisfaction surveys.
Step 1 – Prepare Your Patient Satisfaction Survey
For your practice to grow and thrive, you need happy clients – clients who are going to keep coming back and will refer to friends and family. Also, if your clients are happy, it will lead to better patient outcomes. Patient satisfaction surveys are, therefore, the ideal way to get honest feedback from your clients, and that data can be used to improve your practice and the client experience.
Start off by brainstorming with your team to identify potential problem areas. This might be patient wait times, the amount of time each client gets with their health professional, transparency of health information, and their ability to get answers to their questions.
From there you can draw up a list of questions. Avoid asking questions that are too broad as you won’t get actionable answers, more specific questions will give you the data you need to make changes in your practice. Compare “Are you satisfied with our level of service?” to “Are you satisfied with the length of time you spend waiting for your appointment?”. The first question will only let you know whether they’re generally happy or not, while the second will give you actionable information.
Because every practice is different, survey questions will vary, but there are a few common themes to keep in mind:
- Cover the most important aspects of patient satisfaction – these are related to access to care, ease of communication, and interactions with staff. The questions themselves may vary from practice to practice, but the topics are foundational for most practices.
- Avoid Yes/No questions – a question such as “Were our reception staff friendly and welcoming when you arrived for your appointment?” shouldn’t be answered with a yes or no. Instead, an answer scale from one to five (very satisfied/somewhat satisfied/neutral/somewhat dissatisfied/very dissatisfied) will give you a clearer picture of how your clients feel.
- Always ask whether clients would recommend your practice to friends and family – this indicates that they would trust you with the health and wellbeing of a close friend.
- Include an open-ended question at the end – this may highlight issues that you hadn’t thought of, and give a more detailed insight into how a client feels about your practice.
- Limit the number of questions – a patient survey should be seven questions or fewer, to maximise the number of responses you receive and show respect for your patient’s time.
Step 2 – Survey Your Patients
Armed with a list of the most important questions you want to ask your clients, you can now focus on sharing your survey with your clients. To do this, you need to decide which communication method you want to use to publish your survey, and how you want to get it in front of your clients.
Choose Your Method
There are three main communication methods you can use to survey your patients:
With a number of free and paid survey tools available (including Jotform, Snap Surveys and SurveyMonkey), online is the platform of choice for practices wanting to run stress-free patient satisfaction surveys. Some of the paid options include real-time results so you can monitor responses as they are submitted and promotion tools to make it easier to share with your clients.
In some cases, online surveys aren’t the best option. If you work with older clients or clients that have limited access to the internet, you might want to choose one of the other platforms.
Worldwide, most people have access to a phone, making phone surveys an effective way to get client feedback. The main issue with phone surveys is that they are time-consuming and may limit the honesty of the responses you receive due to the lack of anonymity.
You can ask your clients to fill in a short survey at the end of their visit. This immediate feedback is helpful as you can get an understanding of their experience while it’s still fresh in their minds. And, because it’s done at your practice, your clients won’t forget to fill it out or get distracted once they walk out the door.
Clients may have some concerns about the anonymity of their responses, but this can be circumvented by providing a collection box in the waiting room for completed surveys.
The other limitation is that, if you’re using paper forms, they need to be inputted manually, which is time-consuming. You could get around this by having the survey preloaded on a tablet in the waiting room (which will also alleviate anonymity concerns).
Promote Your Survey
Once you know which method you’re going to use, you need to get creative about promoting it to get the maximum number of responses:
Mailing List Distribution
Depending on the survey platform you use, it may be possible to upload your mailing list and distribute your survey at the click of a button. The main drawback of this method is that the quality of your responses will depend on the quality of your mailing list. If it’s not up-to-date or contains a cross-section of clients including past, current, and potential clients, the results might not be useful. You could use a screening question such as “When was your last visit?” to draw more useful insights.
Personalised Email Distribution
When sending statements, invoices, or updates, include a link to the survey so that clients who visited your practice recently can easily complete the survey.
This will give you insights from current clients and can be built into your client workflow. You can improve your response rate by making the process simple and quick for your clients.
- Randomised surveys – the surveys should be random to give a full picture of the practice. If you only survey on a set day of the week or at a certain time, you may not cover all the different types of clients that visit your practice.
- Anonymity – your clients may be hesitant to share negative perceptions in case it affects their care. Anonymity ensures that they can say what they think, which will improve the feedback you get.
- Survey length – the survey should be short and simple using easy-to-understand language.
Step 3 – Evaluate Findings
This is where online survey tools make your life a lot easier. You can simply download an excel file of the results, and use the data to create graphs and review findings. If you opted for an in-office or phone survey, the results need to be inputted manually.
Once you have the data at your fingertips, you can start evaluating your findings. Sit with your staff to discuss the results, and think of ways to address common client concerns. If there is feedback specific to an employee, take care to address the issue privately.
Step 4 – Implement Changes
Then it’s time to make changes. There’s no point in going to the effort of surveying your clients if you’re not going to do anything with the information. After evaluating the results, you can start changing the way you do things in your practice. Create a list of what needs to be done differently and a timeframe for implementation. This process can be done in consultation with your staff to maximise buy-in. There may be some resistance initially, especially if you are making big procedural changes, but if your staff have been involved at each stage of the process, there will be less pushback.
After you’ve made the changes and they’ve been in place for a few months you should consider running another survey to find out whether you’ve successfully addressed your client’s concerns.
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Happy clients lead to better outcomes and more successful practice, and one of the best tools to ensure that you’re giving your clients what they want is through patient satisfaction surveys. It’s important to follow the four steps we’ve outlined to ensure that you ask the right questions and get insightful answers to those questions in order to make meaningful changes and safeguard the future of your practice.