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Patient feedback can help physicians improve healthcare delivery


Businesses are obsessed with gathering customer feedback to improve the experience. It’s the new norm, and medical practices are no exception. Here's how practices can start collecting patient opinions and use that information to improve their service.


Judy BeeBusinesses are obsessed with gathering customer feedback to improve the experience. It’s the new norm, and medical practices are no exception. Remember that collecting patient opinions about your practice is the first step, and using the information to improve your service is another matter entirely.

Feedback about your practice can come from many  sources. The trick is to create processes to gather and assess these comments regardless of whether it came from an internal survey or an online review.

One of the simplest ways to start gathering this kind of information is by interviewing your front desk and phone staff. After all, they typically are the first to hear the praise and the complaints about the practice.

Patient surveys are another excellent instrument to gather information. We use a simple, short survey that can be given out in the office and returned by mail or dropped in a locked box in the reception area.

The categories of topics fall into Availability (on the phone, for appointments, and email) and Affability (how easy are you to deal with?). We picked up a few tips that help the return and the quality of information.

Keep the survey simple: Ask no more than 10 questions. Pay close attention to the survey that has all excellent marks except one. It tells you that the question hit a nerve, and that the patient stopped to think before responding. 

Ask the physicians to hand out the survey to patients, color-coded by physician seen.

If you know you have a problem-long waits on hold, robot phone answering that confuses people, long waits in the office for an appointment-work to find a solution, and don’t repeatedly ask for feedback. 

For example, if the problem is patients on hold too long, take the robot off the first line of answering, and hire another operator who can handle two lines at a time. Use the robot only when all the incoming lines and operators are engaged. One person can handle two lines and give reasonable service.

Track the number of calls answered by the robot, and the number of call backs required because the patients gave up. Then survey the patients to ask how its going, how long they have to wait on the phone and how courteous the operators are.

The most consistent complaint about office practice is waiting too long in the office. Our gold standard is that you see the patient in the exam room within 20 minutes of the appointment time 80% of the time. So, tell patients that they should plan on spending about an hour in the office or, even better, when they can expect to leave. Track the time-in and time-out for every patient and measure your performance all the time.

Improving service, communication, and satisfaction takes more than asking, “How are we doing?” Asking about service with no evident attempt to improve it just irritates patients and sends the wrong message. The goal of gathering feedback is to improve your delivery and efficiency, so focus on ways it can help your practice. 



Judy Bee is a practice management consultant with Practice Performance Group in La Jolla, California. Send your practice management questions to medec@advanstar.com .


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