February 2000 Bulletin

Patient surveys are ‘win-win’

By collecting feedback on patient expectation of current services and identifying operational problems before a crisis occurs, your group practice has a report card on patient satisfaction trends and can prioritize patients’ needs.

The result: you win and the patient wins!

Such was the case for physicians at the Orthopaedic Specialty Center of Baltimore who established a patient satisfaction system three years ago. Now, they’ve got more referrals and built a strong base of happy customers.

The group was cited as a patient satisfaction success story in the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) Performance and Practices of Successful Medical Groups: 1999 Report Based on 1998 Data last December.

By implementing a simple 15-question patient satisfaction survey given to the patient at the end of the visit or sent postage-free to their homes, the practice gave patients an opportunity to "think" about their visit with the physician and experience at the practice. With the data received, the group was able to zero in on any deficiencies the patient had with the front office staff or the physician that saw the patient.

"The practice’s goal was to find ways to improve physician and staff services," says Jeffrey Silverstone, chief executive officer. The group also wanted to increase their referrals and revenue streams for their 11 orthopaedic surgeons and 50 staff in three locations.

The survey asked patients to give a rating of "poor to excellent" in these categories: getting through to the office via phone, personal manner of staff, time spent with the physician, explanation of what was done to the patient and follow-up instructions, technical skills and personal manner of the physician and if the patient would recommend that practice to a friend.

Other categories on the survey included: naming the treating physician, length of time to get an appointment, if that wait time was acceptable, how personable the staff was, and the quality of time spent with physicians, explanation of what was done to the patient and follow-up instructions.

With the use of collection software, the staff was able to scan the collected survey information that produced a data report. Each office location’s survey was color-coded to determine what facilities were being rated. To ensure patients filled out these forms, administrative assistants were offered incentives for high collection rates.

By measuring patient satisfaction, Silverstone says the group also can compare their patient satisfaction surveys to other groups across the country. He says the practice has definitely changed their relationships with patients and physicians are now "more sensitive" to the needs of their patients. "Our orthopaedists liked seeing the survey data because they’re like scientists–less impressed with your opinion than they are with numbers," he says.

As a result of the survey, wait times significantly improved by determining if the practice had a front office problem (check-in time was lengthy) or a slow physician. "Administrative changes can be made, but if you’ve got a slow doctor, he or she may say, ‘that’s my business,’ says Silverstone. "But the trouble is the slow orthopaedist is reflecting on the entire group–so it could be a big problem."

To tackle the slow physician problem, the practice conducts a quarterly trend analysis where physicians meet with their peers to review the data. "The purpose of this analysis is not to criticize, but to make a better practice, be able to modify someone’s behavior by showing them statistics and data and find out what the patients perception of reality is–not the physician’s," says Silverstone. "Peer pressure is the best way to modify an orthopaedic surgeon’s behavior."

Silverstone feels the practice is ahead of the managed care game because they benchmark. He says, it’s "critical" for practices to send their administrator to meetings of BONES Society, the national organization of orthopaedic practice administrators, so administrators can learn what other orthopaedic practices do around the country.

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