Patient satisfaction has long been used as a measure of success in the healthcare industry, with patient perception being considered an essential aspect of quality improvement since the 1990s, when the Donabedian model for evaluating healthcare was introduced. In fact, France made it compulsory to evaluate this metric in 1996. Meanwhile, the UK made it mandatory for all England’s NHS trusts to report the results of their patient satisfaction surveys to regulators in 2002, with Germany soon following suit in 2005. As such, there’s no denying the crucial role that patient satisfaction plays in global healthcare systems. But why is this?

Before we begin to answer that question, let’s take a closer look at how patient satisfaction is defined.

What is patent satisfaction?

The term ‘patient satisfaction’ often appears in the news. Indeed, it has become somewhat of an industry buzzword. Nevertheless, this subjective concept can seem almost Delphic when it comes to establishing a universally accepted definition.

Whilst patient satisfaction is contingent upon a positive patient experience, the two measures are not to be confused. Patient experience is all about the treatment milestones actually achieved and the quality of the care delivered. Meanwhile, patient satisfaction is more about how patients feel about this experience. Healthcare providers must therefore consider how the people they serve perceive their care – in terms of both access and outcomes – focusing on how well patient expectations were met rather than on the quality of the care itself.

From accessibility and parking to waiting room décor and the friendliness of reception staff, all aspects of the patient experience can affect patient satisfaction. Of course, standard of treatment and quality of communication are paramount – but that isn’t to say you should overlook other, seemingly minor, factors.

Why is patient satisfaction so important?

Contrary to popular belief, both public and private healthcare organisations are deeply affected by patient satisfaction ratings, with a new study cited by the British Medical Journal revealing that the closure of one GP practice can have a direct impact on the patient satisfaction ratings received by another. As such, patient satisfaction must be placed at the centre of all healthcare systems, forming the crux of networks large and small for reasons that extend far beyond marketing and profits.

Increased patient loyalty

Whether you run a private dental practice or work in a public hospital – when your existing patients are satisfied, they’re much more likely to come back. For private companies, this means increased profits and a greater likelihood of patients spending time and money on additional services. Meanwhile, public institutions will benefit from better patient/physician relationships, building a foundation of trust that can aid with early disease detection.

Increased patient numbers

According to the latest data, satisfied patients will share their experiences with an additional five people. Meanwhile, dissatisfied patients will complain to at least nine other people, demonstrating the devastating impact that word of mouth can have. This is particularly true in the digital age, where online reviews are there on show for the public to view for the rest of time. As such, you’ll want to convey a good image. The more satisfied patients you get, the more great feedback and positive reviews will be in circulation, ultimately leading to new custom.

Improved patient compliance

 Humans are complex creatures and, when we don’t like someone, we often behave in nonsensical ways. Whilst your patient might logically understand that you are the expert with the experience and know-how to deal with their problem, if you rub them the wrong way with an unfriendly demeanour or patronising communication, they could end up rebelling against you, abandoning their treatment plan owing to a perceived lack of trust. It’s therefore essential that you build a positive, trusting relationship with your virtual and face-to-face patients; it all helps to ensure that they remain on track, allowing you to focus on preventative care rather than emergency measures that could further decimate your ratings.

Improved clinical outcomes

Patients who trust their doctors have been proven to have better clinical outcomes. As such, patient satisfaction is not only crucial to the survival of your service, but also proves vital to patients as well. Whilst happiness, comfort and relaxation may not constitute traditional measures of treatment success, they must not be overlooked in the name of prioritising quick and efficient delivery of the correct physical measures, instead. Rather, healthcare providers must learn to strike the right balance and deliver both – understanding that emotional wellbeing is a core aspect of health.

Lower risk of lawsuits

Far from suggesting medical negligence, we understand the stress and upheaval that a legal complaint from an angry client can create. Even in instances where it would be impossible for you to be proven guilty, dealing with negative feedback of any kind is a time-consuming process that could leave both you and your resources feeling depleted. Avoid all of this by ensuring your patients are satisfied in the first place.

How is patient satisfaction measured?

Patient satisfaction is a multifaceted concept, encompassing everything from the technical quality of treatment and its outcomes to the availability, accessibility and convenience of care. Indeed, patients can also concern themselves with their physical environment and their treatment providers’ interpersonal manner, in addition to seeking transparency when it comes to their finances and further opportunities for continued care.

The ways in which patient satisfaction can be measured are equally as diverse, ranging from retrospective surveys to in-person guided tours. Healthcare providers often adopt a mix of qualitative and quantitative measures to capture this elusive concept, perhaps relying on photographic and voice-based evidence to establish better records of patients’ claims. This feedback can then be used to determine objective areas for future improvement.

HCAHPS surveys are one of the most common tools for measurement in the US, with more than 4000 hospitals and three million patients participating each year. As the first standardised survey to measure ten key aspects of healthcare quality, they give considerable insight into non-traditional healthcare factors like the standard of communication with doctors and nurses.

Of course, in this digital age, web-based testimonials, Trustpilot entries and social media reviews are another valuable source of insight into the patient’s mindset. The only thing to be mindful of is that, once feedback has been published online, you can only take retrospective action to respond to any complaints. It’s often much easier to collect feedback from the customer early on, allowing you to establish patterns and come up with effective solutions directly at the source.

The most important thing to ensure with any patient satisfaction metric is that you are truly capturing the patients’ values. However, combining the customers perspective with corresponding literature on patient expectations has been proven to have the greatest transformational value.

Current challenges to patient satisfaction

 Digital technologies like apps and AI are making it easier than ever to capture valuable feedback that can be used to improve future patient satisfaction. Nevertheless, they also come with one major drawback: the more people rely on instantaneous solutions they can carry round in their pockets, the more focussed society becomes on experienced-based living. People want accurate, attentive and high-quality care at a time and place that’s convenient for them – and if they can’t find it with you, they will simply take their issues elsewhere. As a result, it’s now more fundamental than ever that you get things right.

How can patient satisfaction be improved

With so much pressure on healthcare providers to outperform their competitors, you may be wondering what you can do to improve your satisfaction ratings and make technology your ally, rather than a threat. That said, here are our top five tips for improving patient satisfaction:

Manage expectations

More often than not, reality fails to match our expectations. The disappointment that follows perhaps feels most bitter in the field of healthcare, where unmet expectations of a pain-free future could have serious detrimental impact on a patient’s mental health and overall quality of life. In order to prevent such sinking feelings from muddying the otherwise clear waters of the optimal healthcare provided, healthcare providers will need to make considerable efforts to manage patient expectations – particularly when it comes to explaining the scope and potential outcomes of treatment. When these are communicated in a clear and tangible way, patients are less likely to let their expectations soar too high.

Provide post-procedure care and support

Pain and regret have been listed as the biggest barriers to successful satisfaction ratings. In fact, postoperative pain after recent surgery can have considerable impact on a patient’s perception of the treatment they received. As such, it’s important to focus on providing effective pain-management once a procedure has been completed.

Studies have shown that being able to access relevant information and easily request additional pain relief also help to mitigate the negative impact that post-operative pain can have on patient satisfaction levels. Digital care platforms and/or apps can help overcome this issue – creating clear communication channels between the patient and their care team, without putting additional strain on a busy system between appointments. Patients could then ask any questions, request any medication and download any useful information from the comfort of their own home – all helping to boost satisfaction ratings in the long term.

Be informative

Quality information can help patients to feel more satisfied with the level of healthcare they have received. Not only does it make them feel more integrated with the overall treatment process, but it also creates the perception of added value. Digital platforms and/or apps helps to take things one step further – encouraging a single source of truth rather than customers going to multiple – potentially conflicting – sources of information themselves. When things are clear and they understand the process, they are more likely to be engaged in their care, resulting in better patient satisfaction overall.

A good example of such a service is the SmartPatient app released by Merck KGaA, which allows MS patients to access informative videos on managing their medication and living with their condition, in addition to connecting them with industry professionals.

Be flexible

No one likes waiting – especially when feeling ill or trying to keep up with the accelerated pace of modern life, where we’re constantly expected to be on the go. Luckily, although long waiting times are often cited as the biggest obstacle to patient satisfaction, they’re also the easiest barrier to fix.

For example, implementing an advisory system to show estimated waiting times or facilitating app-based or online bookings for appointments will give patients greater freedom to integrate their healthcare into their own busy lives, while increasing both patient engagement and satisfaction.

Go digital

Having your own digital management platform or healthcare app could be the difference between satisfied patients and a history of nasty complaints. Not only would a digital presence help you to manage patient expectations through clear information and more consistent treatment discussion, but it would also help with transparency, flexibility and providing value-added support.

Regardless of the service you provide, there are countless examples of digital healthcare success. For instance, Sunderland Royal Hospital in the UK has been able to improve its radiology service via a digital portering management tool that made Wi-Fi woes a thing of the past. Meanwhile, in the US, researchers found that digital abortion initiatives – conducted through telehealth – helped to make women feel more relaxed. All these changes help to improve patient satisfaction across the board. The only thing you need to ensure is that your platform is easy to use, while providing accurate information in a visually pleasing and intuitive way. It’s also best to act fast using pre-programmed modules that have been tried and tested for guaranteed success.

If you would like help designing and creating your own app, get in touch with blueBriX  to learn more about our low-code no-code platform for digital health solutions.