Improving Patient Satisfaction

Enhance Patient Experience and Outcomes through Effective Hospital Practices

Improving patient satisfaction is one of the most discussed topics in boardrooms of hospitals across the country. How many more patients can come to the hospital expecting to be treated to satisfaction? This is a valid research question considering that ‘the word of mouth’ is one of the most powerful marketing tool any organization can have.

Patient satisfaction is one of the major determinants of quality of healthcare service. What is patient satisfaction? Patient satisfaction is multidimensional; the satisfaction quotient also varies from one individual to another…..all in all a very challenging outcome to define. Patient expectations of care and attitudes greatly contribute to satisfaction; other psychosocial factors, including pain and depression, are also known to contribute to patient satisfaction scores. Historically, physicians, especially surgeons, have focused on surgical technique and objective outcomes as measures of “patient satisfaction,” this still is the most important factor contributing to patient satisfaction. The modern day patient has now included many more elements to be fulfilled before he or she is satisfied, these range from the skills and attitude of all staffs, cleanliness and hygiene, safety and comfort, pleasing aesthetics and quality time with treating doctors. The task for hospitals is to find ways to ensure patient satisfaction from the time the hospital is conceived and thereafter through the daily course of treating and caring for them. The following are a few thoughts that can be considered:

Patient centred design: In the years gone by not much consideration was given to the complexity of designing a hospital and the need of specialised teams at various stages, hospitals were designed like any other building involving the architect and the owner. The plan and layout of the hospital can contribute to a large extent to the efficiency and satisfaction of the staff which they then bring out towards the patients. The traditional design of hospitals can create a frustrating and somewhat frightening environment in which to receive care, leading to low levels of patient satisfaction and potentially declining market share. A growing body of evidence suggests that patient-centered design can improve patient satisfaction, employee retention, quality and safety. Easy-to-navigate hospital entry; Easy, pleasant parking; Warm, inviting lobby; Clear signage’s directing the patient traffic in languages commonly understood by the community; Comforting transition to patient units through aesthetically pleasing corridors in contrast to the sterile environment in traditional facilities; Decentralized nursing stations; mostly private patient rooms; proper storage facilities in inpatient areas to ensure big equipments normally stored in hallways are tucked away from patient view; adequate day lighting and artificial lighting that have the ability to lift a person’s spirits; use of noise reducing materials in patient rooms; the list can go on and many times the resources available may restrict the way the hospital is designed and built, whatever the limitations ensuring patient satisfaction from conceptualization is a sure elixir to a successful hospital

Establish standard operating procedures and protocols: A hospital being the most complex of organisations cannot be efficiently managed without clearly documenting standard operating procedures and protocols and ensuring induction and training of all staff. Establishing and documenting standard operating procedures for each department and functional area will ensure consistency of service delivery even with a new staff who may have just been inducted, received training but has to still be able to remember the standard procedure, policy or protocol for particular activity. Consistency and efficiency in service will contribute to a higher level of patient satisfaction.

Ensure staff satisfaction: The satisfaction levels among a hospital’s staff are closely linked to the quality of healthcare it provides. Satisfaction levels among non-clinical staff have been found to be as closely tied to a hospital’s performance as those of clinical staff. A stronger correlation exists among nursing staff. Better organisations attract better staffs, who work harder. It’s a cycle of improvement or a cycle of degeneration for most hospitals. Regular surveys asking questions such as ‘would you recommend this hospital to friends and family?’ might be able to prevent attrition and deterioration of hospital standards. Healthcare workers pour heart and soul into their work, and it is important to avoid emotional burnout by re-filling the coffers of goodwill, offering lots of positive feedback and creating an environment that is filled with support and positive feedback. This keeps smiles on the faces of happy, rewarded employees, and at the end of the day, a simple smile and positive outlook can go a long way toward patient satisfaction. In addition provision of proper facilities for staff to change, to have food and to relax during a night duty will help. The design of the hospital building should consider staff efficiency into it, for example location of the nursing station should be such as to avoid making the nurses travel many kilometers a day in the course of patient care leading to burnout. Provision of nursing  sub-
stations when the inpatient wing spans across a huge floor-plate will also help. Imbibing a feeling of belonging, ownership and pride about the hospital can go a long way in ensuring staff satisfaction which then trickles down to increase patient satisfaction.

Treat the patient as customer: With the rising tide of consumerism patients are becoming more demanding of hospitals; the patient does not want to be patient any longer. Hospitals and doctors need to recognize this. The number one demand of patients is respect, unlike in the past, if patients do not get this sense of respect and the sense that you’re doing things around their needs rather than your needs, he or she will go somewhere else. One way hospitals can demonstrate respect for patients is to be responsive to their needs. For example, hospitals should ensure all physicians, nurses and staffs are easily accessible for appointments and are able to communicate with patients at their level — using email and text messaging if necessary. We as providers need to consider the patient as our customer or another way of saying it,is the one who’s paying the bill.

Consider the patient as a partner: One of the triple aims of healthcare reform is improving population health, which requires the engagement of patients in making healthy decisions. Patients want to be partners with their healthcare providers. Hospitals can create a partnership between their providers and patients by offering multidisciplinary team-based care that takes patients’ individual needs into account when developing treatment plans. For example, for a single working mother who developed breast cancer and needs chemotherapy, the treatment team can offer appointments late in the afternoon Fridays or on the weekend so the patient does not have to miss work. Making the patient a partner requires us to understand what are the patients needs, frustrations and anxieties are, and discussing with them on how you’re going to deal with it together. In keeping the patient as a partner we automatically end up communicating more with them, keeping them more informed of what is happening with them while they are in the hospital therefore reducing the anxiety that sets in the moment a patient steps into a hospital.

Be clear about wait times: Waiting is the most irritating and frustrating part about visiting a hospital, the hospital that is able to reduce this and most of all is able to provide close to accurate information on it would have already achieved fifty percent of patient satisfaction. Waiting times are so common in the hospitals, patients wait for registration, wait for consultation, wait for diagnostic test, wait for reports, wait for discharge and so on. The ideal suggestion would be to aim at completely zero waiting times for the patient which is practically impossible to achieve. A majority of patients and attendants do understand that availing of services in a hospital will involve a bit of waiting, they get frustrated, angry and dissatisfied only when they are fooled about the extent of waiting they need to endure. Waiting can be especially very frustrating for patients who often cannot eat before certain procedures. Giving a more accurate time, plus or minus a few minutes, will greatly help patients and their families in knowing what to expect (it doesn’t have to be to the nearest minute). Better co-ordination, feedback to the patient’s nurse and direct communication with the patient should be a standard protocol.

About the author : 
Dr. Karen is a dedicated healthcare professional having an amalgamation of clinical and administrative experience and knowledge well versed with the functionality, systems and processes of a hospital, she plays a vital role in ascertaining the feasibility of setting up a hospital, planning the medical programme and medical infrastructure, equipment and human resource requirement for various hospitals being established on a turnkey basis as well as those undergoing expansion and up-gradation. 

She has also been actively involved in the medical related operations of hospitals at the corporate level.  Her experience include working as a Senior Consultant of the hospital planning division at Medica Synergie Pvt Ltd. Prior to this she worked as a medical practitioner in government hospitals in Delhi and after her master’s degree she was with the Medical Operations Group of Fortis Healthcare, and the Operations and Planning team of Manipal Health Systems. 

She holds a Medical degree from Sardar Patel Medical College, Bikaner and a Masters degree in Hospital Administration from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.  Loving and caring for children is something she  finds irresistible. Baking cakes is her passion.

Dr Karen Marlyn Syiem
Principal Consultant, Integra Ventures | + posts