Today's News

Thursday, March 1, 2001

Business world can teach patient satisfaction

A few lessons in customer satisfaction from the business world can greatly aid the success of a doctor. This was the advice Alan H. Pierrot, MD, gave a roomful of residents Tuesday at a symposium in practice management.

Dr. Pierrot, founder of Fresno Surgery Center, a doctor-owned in-patient facility in Fresno, CA, said the training of doctors usually doesn't put enough emphasis on patient satisfaction, focusing mostly on clinical skills.

Excellent clinical skills are essential, Dr. Pierrot said, but patients will keep coming back only if they feel good about the whole medical visit, from the doctor's manner to the comfort of the examining or hospital room.

"We have the wrong contract with patients, we miss the boat day after day," he said. "There's a mismatch between what we provide and what patients want us to provide."

Doctors need to stop looking at those they treat as merely patients, and consider them as customers wanting, and deserving, a quality medical experience from the money they spend on health care, he said. This is especially important in today's competitive health care market, he said. "If you stick to the traditional, you may be very successful but you'll be very vulnerable to a competitor who has a broader view."

With its strong emphasis on pleasing customers, private business offers some key practical tips doctors can use in their practice, Dr. Pierrot said. "Business has much it can teach us."

For starters, doctors should clearly define the "contract," they make with patients, or what they will provide beyond diagnosis and treatment, he said. This should cover such things as providing ample time for doctor visits, clear explanations of medical findings, time to answer questions and friendly staff.

The contract is like a doctor's goal or mission statement, and the more it reflects patient's desires, the more appealing it is to consumers, or potential patients, he said, adding it can be included in a doctor's business brochure or Website.

Surveys show that in addition to clinical excellence, patients want a caring attitude from their doctor, not to feel rushed during doctor visits, the timely communication of test results, clear explanations and instructions, their questions answered and delays explained, Dr. Pierrot said.

Surveys also show patients want their hospital rooms to be homelike, spacious and quiet with good food, ready nurse access and the ability for the patient to control lighting and temperature, he said.

Satisfying patients depends on good communication, Dr. Pierrot stressed. Doctors should strive for clear and empathetic verbal and nonverbal communication that doesn't patronize or minimize patients, he said.

Good communication "makes economic sense," he said. Doctors who patients consider good communicators have an easier time getting new patients and get more referrals, he said. Studies also show they're less at risk for malpractice suits. "If you want to get some leverage from your marketplace be the doctor the choice, be the best communicator. It's a powerful position."

Dr. Pierrot also advocates using patient satisfaction questionnaires to regularly judge how a medical practice is doing. "What doesn't get measured doesn't get done."

The symposium program, which also covered such topics as medical malpractice and managed care, was supported by an unrestricted educational grant from AstraZeneca.

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Last modified 09/March/2001 by IS