I remember when doctors owned their practices. I remember being able to call my doctor’s office and talk to person at the front desk who I knew for years and who knew me. If I needed to talk with the doctor, the folks at the front desk put me right through or took a message and made sure the doctor called me back as soon as possible. After all, the doctors not only practiced medicine, but they were also the owners of the business.
That relationship has seemed to disappear. Now when I call my doctor’s office, I talk to a call center operator who has no idea who I am. The operator takes a message and then conveys it to the office staff, who then is supposed to return my call in a timely manner. Sometimes it can now take days for me to get a response.
Most medical practices today are owned and managed by the large hospital systems. It is rare for a doctor or a group of doctors to still be independent. Because of the size and complexity of the hospital networks throughout the region, appointments are handled by large call centers and it is harder to talk to someone who is actually sitting in the office. I am told that most doctors are happy with this new arrangement, where they practice medicine and a team of centrally located administrators takes care of running the business. Other doctors, however, most of who are older, have become so disenchanted with this change that they have decided to retire. They miss the closeness that had with their patients and the opportunity to spend as much time as they need to with each patient. This has presented a new problem, primarily for their baby-boomer patients. It is common today for a doctor to announce retirement and for patients who have been with that doctor for decades, to now need to find a new physician.
So now that healthcare has become more impersonalized, how are the hospital systems finding out if their protocols are working? They are sending patients a patient satisfaction survey a few days after a visit with one of their doctors. Patients are invited to anonymously provide feedback about their experience. Unfortunately, many patients pay no attention to completing the survey. Our The Power of the Patient Project is spending much energy encouraging every patient to complete these surveys, and quite honestly, we have seen improvements in patient relations as a result of the feedback.
As an example, several months ago, I received one of these surveys. I indicated on the open comment section my dissatisfaction with the call center model, and that I felt that it broke down communications between the doctor and the patient, rather than enhancing it. Knowing the name of the president of this large hospital system, I actually wrote in my comment that I wanted him to become aware of my comment and seriously consider changing the use of the call centers. I wanted to be able to dial directly to the doctor’s office. I was pleased to discover a few weeks later when I needed to reach my doctor again, that the hospital system had added a prompt to its automated menu that allowed me to do just that. I could now bypass the call center and be connected directly to my doctor’s office.
The Typical Patient Satisfaction Survey
Surveys are either sent to the patient online or in the mail. Typically they ask for feedback on the following areas of the patient visit.
how easy it was to make an appointment
how long you spent in the waiting room before being called by the medical assistant
how long you needed to wait for the doctor to begin the examination
the courtesy and friendliness of the front office staff
the efficiency and professionalism of the medical assistant/physician assistant
how completely and patiently the doctor answered your questions
how compassionate and caring the doctor was during the visit
how easy it was to find the office and find parking
how easy it is to call the office for guidance on following the treatment plan
how easy it is to have prescription refills ordered
how fast the doctor gets back to you after you have a blood test or imaging
your overall impression of the doctor, the office staff, and the efficiency of the office
Hospital systems are paying attention to the feedback. The patient satisfaction survey is perhaps the best tool the hospital systems have to monitoring the pulse of the patient in terms of how well the system is meeting the expectations of the patient. The more patients participate in these surveys, the closer we will get to improving the patient/provider relationships that we have with our doctors and our hospitals.