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Thomas Engel, CMPE, administrator of the Heart and Vascular Clinic of Northern Colorado in Fort Collins, sees patient satisfaction surveys as a good investment, as do the clinic’s physicians.
William Stewart, MD, medical director at Minor and James Medical PLLC, a 64-physician multispecialty group in downtown Seattle, says he thinks of patient satisfaction surveys as an education tool that keeps the staff aware that the practice depends on a high degree of patient satisfaction.
The patient satisfaction efforts of both practices were highlighted by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) in Englewood, CO, in its report "Performances and Practices of Successful Medical Groups 2000."
"I look on the survey as an important teaching tool for physicians and employees as well as a measure of patient satisfaction," says Stewart. Instead of collecting patient satisfaction data once or twice a year, Stewart runs his survey all year long, alternating among departments. "By running the survey throughout the year, my employees and my physicians are always aware that we are providing a service and that we are dependent on a high level of patient satisfaction," Stewart says.
Heart and Vascular Clinic of Northern Colorado, a group of 11 cardiologists with a patient base including parts of Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming, has used the data from its surveys to make the decision to move from a 10,000-square-foot building with eight examining rooms to a 33,000-square-foot building with 28 exam rooms.
When the practice installed its electronic medical record systems, it included a mechanism to measure the amount of time patients wait in the lobby and examination room, two trouble spots that frequently showed up on patient satisfaction data. "We can track the elapsed time very precisely and can identify bottlenecks," Engel says.
Some of the bottlenecks occurred because medical assistants were on the phone handling prescription refills or other things were keeping patients in the lobby. "If anybody is taking an inordinate amount of time, we can identify that. Generally, when the physicians and staff see the data, they are motivated to respond to it," Engel says.
The two practices handle their patient satisfaction surveys in different ways. Heart and Vascular Clinic of Northern Colorado uses a mailed survey sent out quarterly. One hundred patients per physician are surveyed. The patients are selected by an automated database, with the parameter that patients are surveyed only once every two years. People who are in collection are excluded because Engel assumes their responses would be biased.
Minor and James Medical targets 50 patients for each physician. Patients are chosen at random and are given the survey to fill out while they are in the office. "The number of patient satisfaction surveys is the same as when we did it once a year; we just collect it over a longer period. This takes out seasonal variations and is less disruptive to our office," Stewart says. Collecting data throughout the year has an additional benefit, he says: No longer do reception staff have to be trained once a year on how to greet patients, explain the survey to them, and make sure they fill it out before they leave.
The Heart and Vascular Clinic survey includes a comment section in which patients are asked what the practice can do to improve its service. Frequently, the patients identify specific physicians for complaints. If the patient also fills out the optional name and phone number section, the physician calls the patient to try to make things right or at least make the patient feel his or her opinions are being heard.
The survey costs the practice around $5,000 a year for printing, mailing, and business reply costs, but Engel feels it’s worth the cost. "Our physicians never thought of it as an expense; they thought of it as an investment," he says.