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What Is the Key to Improving Patient Satisfaction?

Thursday, January 29, 2015
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Inquiring minds want to know: What is the key to improving patient satisfaction? In an effort to improve the patient experience, many healthcare leaders are asking such questions as:

  • Should we implement a hospital-wide training program?
  • Should we revamp our leadership program? 
  • How can we develop a culture of patient-centered care?

If your team is pondering these questions, it is important to recognize that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for improving your patients’ experiences. Indeed, if you have worked in healthcare long enough, you know that there is no single specific training solution that can improve patient satisfaction. As a matter of fact, what may work at one organization may not be ideal for yours.

For example, many organizations have hired external suppliers to implement a customer service program geared toward improving patient satisfaction, because they researched the program and learned it had been successful for several other organizations. However, when implemented, the program falters because there is either lack of leadership buy-in, or numerous employees feel the program is simply the latest gimmick, flavor-of the-month, or irrelevant to their specific role, department, or healthcare.

Clearly, the organization’s culture wasn’t prepared for implementing the program or that specific program simply wasn’t the right solution for their organization.

Case in Point

Over the years, I have assisted with the implementation of various patient satisfaction and patient safety initiatives. But I gained most of my valuable knowledge on these issues when my education department partnered with the outpatient clinics to pilot a customer service effort called the” Customer Service Secret Shopper Program.”

Key features of the program included:  

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  • placing comment suggestion boxes in each clinic
  • providing customer service and teambuilding training for all employees
  • monitoring the patient satisfaction scores and addressed patients’ complaints immediately.

More importantly, there was leadership involvement. Leaders at each of the clinics began to compete for their location to be the clinic that provided the best patient experience. As a result of the program, patient satisfaction scores saw an increase of 50 percent.

Lessons Learned

This program helped me realize that the solution for improving patient satisfaction is like putting together a puzzle. It requires a multitude of components combined together to achieve tangible results.

In addition, I learned a lot by networking with healthcare professionals who work at different organizations—and who shared their patient satisfaction stories. These professionals fulfill indirect and direct patient care roles and have many years of experience. Many of them are organizational development facilitators, leaders, nurses, and other patient care professionals.

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During our discussions about the challenges of improving patient satisfaction, it became clear that each organization uses different components to improve customer service, but they all had at least three common components for success:

1. Get Leadership Buy-In and Commitment

  • Top leadership (CEO, President, CFO, VP HR, CNO, and Chief Medical Director) actively participates in general new hire orientation by facilitating various portions of patient-centered care training.
  • Leadership develops action plans for every patient complaint received and evidence of resolution.
  • Leadership thoroughly reviews the patient satisfaction survey scores, then researches the circumstances and interviews staff, when necessary, to determine if there are other issues that negatively impact their patient satisfaction scores (for example, short staffed, lack of proper resources/equipment to complete tasks).
  • Leadership provides one-on-one staff coaching, as needed.
  • Leadership is responsible and accountable for their department’s patient satisfaction scores.
  • Leadership communicates to employees their department’s patient satisfaction scores, and the importance of continuously improving the scores.
  • Leader communicates to employees how their role impacts patient care, even if they do not work in a direct patient care department.
  • Leadership implements a non-tolerance policy (for example. more than three patient complaints for an individual employee may results in termination).

2. Implement Training

  • All employees complete patient-centered care training during general orientation.
  • All nurses, patient care assistants, and unit secretaries complete customer service and teambuilding training.
  • All employees (clinical and nonclinical) complete department new hire checklists that includes understanding of leadership expectations as it relates to patient satisfaction.
  • Physicians attend mandatory customer service or patient-centered care training.

3. Maintain a Continuous Improvement Process

  • Select and train a “Customer Service Champion” for each department.
  • Mandate staff sign a commitment statement honoring patient-centered care culture.
  • Provide annual customer service and teambuilding training.
  • Provide annual patient-centered care culture training.
  • Survey every employee that is discharged.
  • Use a random sampling method to survey patients and employees. Recognizing that employees are customers, too, and that working together as a team is instrumental to improving patient satisfaction.

Moving Forward

When I reflect on my experience with the outpatient clinics, I know the initiative was successful because it addressed these three critical factors. As your organization explores ways to improve patient satisfaction, perhaps it can combine the best ingredients to create a recipe that will aid in improving patient satisfaction. 

About the Author

Catina Barnett is the organization development process manager at Indiana University Health in human resources’ learning institute department. She holds a BA in psychology, an MBA, and a PHR certification. She has 15 years combined facilitation, instructional design, and human resources experience, and won the Distinguished Young Alumni Award from the University of Indianapolis in 2007. 
She is also co-founder and executive director of Youth Hope & Inspiration, a not-for-profit organization based on Christian principles that encourages the community to work together to provide youth from disadvantaged or low-income families with enriching experiences for healthy development (www.youthinspirationinc.org).


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