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Patient satisfaction in healthcare and how to improve it

Alia Paavola
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Improving patient satisfaction is top-of-mind for many healthcare facilities. That’s because patient satisfaction directly impacts clinical outcomes, reimbursement, and loyalty.

This article dives into the role of patient satisfaction in healthcare, including its impact, key components, and strategies to improve it. 

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<h2 id="What">What is patient satisfaction?</h2>

Patient satisfaction measures patients' happiness with a healthcare encounter relative to their expectations. Healthcare providers must monitor patient satisfaction because it impacts health outcomes and revenue.

While people often use patient satisfaction and patient experience interchangeably, the terms differ. Patient experience involves patients' interactions with a health system, where satisfaction measures whether patients’ expectations during those interactions were met. So, it’s important to note that a positive experience ultimately results in positive patient satisfaction.

<h2 id="Components">The key components of patient satisfaction</h2>

Numerous factors contribute to whether or not a patient is satisfied, from the look of the facility to the receptionists’ greeting. For simplicity, we’ve broken down these factors into several buckets below.

  • Perceived quality of care. A patient’s perception of care greatly affects overall satisfaction. Patients want their concerns listened to, addressed, and resolved. Providers’ manners, clinical competencies, and pain management techniques are the top factors contributing to perceived care quality.

  • Clear and empathetic communication. Clear and empathetic communication is one of the most significant factors in patient satisfaction. Excellent communication helps manage patient expectations and ensures patients are well-informed about their care. Empathetic communication also helps to build trust and loyalty over time.

  • Patient education. Patients must understand their diagnosis, treatment plan, and medications. This involves clear communication before discharge from nurses, doctors, and other staff. It also involves ensuring patients have a straightforward way to get in touch with any questions.
  • Responsiveness. In addition to clear communication, the responsiveness of hospital staff matters. This means healthcare facilities must address patient questions, concerns, and requests in a timely and effective manner. This involves replying to questions from patients digitally and responding to requests while in the facility quickly.

  • Access to care and results. Patients want timely access to appointments and test results. Long wait times and hard-to-schedule appointments can jeopardize patient satisfaction. Make it easier to schedule appointments, view test results, and get timely appointments.

  • Appointment wait times. As appointment wait times increase, patient satisfaction decreases. This makes it imperative that you reduce in-person wait times.

  • Facility environment. The physical setting can influence how a patient views their overall experience. Patients want a clean facility, quiet healing environments, private rooms, and easy parking. Pay attention to these factors to ensure that the environment contributes to – and does not detract from – satisfaction.

<h2 id="Impact">The impact of patient satisfaction on healthcare</h2>

There are plenty of reasons medical professionals should care about patient satisfaction. That’s because the level of satisfaction directly impacts finances, clinical outcomes, medical adherence, and more. Specifically, patient satisfaction influences:

  • Reimbursement. Patient satisfaction impacts the bottom line. Insurance reimbursement is tied to patient satisfaction scores. While Medicare has linked patient satisfaction to reimbursement since 2012, more hospitals are entering value-based care arrangements where they are rewarded or penalized for care quality and patient satisfaction levels.

  • Reputation. Unsatisfied patients can leave online reviews about their negative experiences, leading to a poor online reputation. A Medical Economics study found negative word-of-mouth about a medical facility could mean revenue losses of up to $400,000 per patient.

  • Patient retention and loyalty. Patient satisfaction influences patient loyalty. Patients who are happy with their experience are more likely to stay with your healthcare system. This overtime can help providers boost revenue and retain patients.

  • Lower readmission rates. A study found that higher satisfaction scores are correlated with up to a 30 percent reduction in readmission rates.

  • Adherence to treatment plans. The more satisfied and well-informed patients are, the more likely they are to adhere to their medication and treatment plans.

<h2 id="Strategies">11 strategies for improving patient satisfaction</h2>

Thankfully there are many ways to improve patient satisfaction in healthcare. Let’s look into a few focal points to improve patient satisfaction.

A graphic showing the key components of patient satisfaction

Minimize appointment wait time

Long wait times harm patient satisfaction. Several ways to help reduce patient wait times include:

  • Offer self-scheduling. Improve the patient flow in the waiting room by implementing tools to lower call volume for front desk staff. This ensures patients can walk right up to the counter. 
  • Send automated appointment reminders. Decrease late arrivals and cut now shows by sharing reminders via text or email. You can even share your late arrival policy.
  • Offer digital check-in options. Let patients check in ahead of time to reduce their time spent in the waiting room. This can help you gather data ahead of time and automate tasks like insurance verification.
  • Offer payment options. Let customers keep a card on file or use Apple Pay to help them spend less time at the front desk.

Use personalized follow-ups

Get a plan in place to follow up with patients post-appointment. This simple check-in can go a long way in helping patients feel seen and cared for. There are several ways to follow up:

  • Giving patients a quick call
  • Asking patients to reply to a message in their patient portal
  • Sending a HIPAA-compliant text to check in

Texting is a great tool to facilitate follow-ups because HIPAA-compliant SMS platforms allow you to schedule messages in advance. That way, you know this message is sent at the right time. Texting is also a great way to do this check-in at scale while maintaining personalization. For your convenience, SMS platforms let organizations text and manage replies from a computer via a centralized inbox.

Discover more about how to improve your healthcare customer service.

Offer different communication methods 

Patients prefer different methods of communicating with their healthcare providers. Providers can help meet patient preferences and expectations by using different communication channels. Set up channels like voice calls, text messaging, video, secure messaging, and remote monitoring. This can better support communication and care coordination, especially when patients are not within your facility. 

Educate patients

Ensure that patients understand their diagnosis and treatment plan. An educated patient is more satisfied and engaged in their overall health. Prior to discharge, provide the patients with thorough instructions, answer any questions, and give supporting education materials. 

Providers can create a series of educational materials like:

  • Printed one-pagers
  • Blogs
  • Newsletters
  • Emails

Set realistic expectations for patients

Patient expectations need to be understood and managed to help with care satisfaction. Get an understanding upfront about patients’ expectations and main concerns. This starts an open conversation about treatment plans, diagnoses, and expectations along the way.

For example, a provider should ensure a surgical patient clearly understands pain expectations and recovery timeline. On the other hand, a diabetes patient would need to understand that the condition requires life-long, consistent monitoring. All in all, it’s important to communicate clearly and set realistic expectations for care.

Improve access to care and information

Make it as simple as possible for patients to access care and information. A simplified process for finding information helps reduce frustration.

There are several ways to improve this access, including:

  • Patient portals. Create a patient portal that allows patients to access information online about their treatment plans, providers, results, and more. These portals have ballooned in popularity in recent years as patients want access to this information.

  • Telehealth visits. Give patients the option to do a telehealth visit with your medical facility. This can help patients get seen for their minor health concerns or follow-up appointments quicker than an in-person visit. It also gives patients a convenient way to get care.

  • SMS customer service platform. Set up a business phone number that patients can text to inquire about services, operating hours, or insurance questions. You could also allow them to schedule appointments via text message to simplify this process or text your patient base to fill in last-minute cancelations. This can improve the wait time for care access. 

Offer simple, flexible, and transparent payment options

Healthcare billing is complex and often opaque for patients. That’s because it involves multiple key players, including insurers, providers, and third parties. But, a streamlined payment process is a factor in satisfaction. You can do this by:

  • Letting patients pay online
  • Offering personalized payment plans
  • Providing up-front price estimates
  • Sharing cash prices for routine services
  • Educating patients on insurance coverage
  • Using payment reminders
  • Alerting patients when they have a new bill

Leverage appointment and scheduling reminders

One of the top-cited reasons patients miss appointments is forgetfulness. Remind patients about upcoming appointments and any preventive visits they should schedule. For example, you should remind patients to schedule a follow-up appointment or to book their annual physical. These simple and personalized reminders can help with satisfaction and overall health outcomes.

One of the best ways to send appointment reminders is via text message. That’s because SMS has an open rate of 98 percent, which is nearly five times higher than email. 

Be responsive

The reality is that patients expect prompt replies. When patients reach out to ask a question, be sure to respond promptly. This shows that you value them and their health.

Being responsive also means replying quickly to call lights in the hospital. This can be addressed by conducting regular rounds and ensuring a staffed unit. 

Be empathetic and compassionate

Empathy is key to understanding your patients' concerns and feelings. Patients expect to feel empathy and compassion from their healthcare providers. There are several ways to improve empathy:

  • Listen. The importance of listening can’t be overstated. Empathy starts with listening and asking questions to understand your patient.
  • Don’t rush. Patients know when you’re rushing through an appointment. Be mindful to take a breath and slow down in each room.
  • Tailor treatment plans. Every individual has different health needs and concerns. Make sure to personalize treatment plans.

Prioritize cleanliness

A major satisfaction factor is the facility’s look and feel. Patients expect a clean, quiet, and healing environment. Be mindful that patients pay attention to staff hand hygiene and the area's appearance. Be sure to have a cleaning schedule for the rooms, lounges, and waiting areas.

<h2 id="Measure">How to measure patient satisfaction</h2>

It’s a common misconception that the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers & Systems (HCAHPS) survey is a patient satisfaction survey. This HCAHPS survey is actually a patient experience survey focused on asking patients how they experienced critical aspects of care. On the other hand, patient satisfaction surveys in healthcare focus on how happy a patient is with their care.

So how can providers measure patient satisfaction specifically? Medical facilities should look at metrics like customer satisfaction scores, loyalty scores like net promoter scores, customer effort scores, and customer lifetime value.

There are several options to collect and analyze these scores and gain patient feedback about satisfaction:

  • Surveys. Use NPS or CSAT surveys to get an overall score for satisfaction and loyalty. CSAT surveys help you ask how satisfied a patient was with their care on a numerical scale.
  • Questionnaires. Send a questionnaire to patients to uncover any areas of frustration and where to implement improvement strategies.
  • Interviews. Conduct a one-on-one interview with patients to understand their satisfaction level.
  • Focus groups. Set up a larger interview-style meeting with a few patients to solicit feedback and satisfaction levels.
  • Suggestion boxes. Leverage a tool like suggestion boxes to encourage patients to leave feedback about their visit.
  • Comment cards. Give patients the option to fill out a comment card about their visit. This can uncover suggestions.
  • Review websites. Encourage patients to leave reviews about their visit. These review websites can help you understand satisfaction.

Interested in boosting your response rate to surveys? See why SMS surveys can be a great option for your medical practice.

An image of an SMS survey

Leverage professional texting to improve healthcare communication

One of the most significant factors that affect patient satisfaction is communication between a patient and the medical team. Don’t let poor communication and slow replies hurt your medical practice. Instead, take advantage of the high open rate, speed, and convenience of text messaging.

If you’re looking for a healthcare SMS solution, look no further than Textline. We’re the industry’s most secure and fully HIPAA-compliant SMS platform. Textline offers a built-in HIPAA consent feature, data encryption, and admin controls so you can text patients confidently.

Request a demo of our HIPAA-compliant solution today – and see for yourself how it solves communication challenges. 

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