Health Care Insider: Happy Patients are Healthy PatientsMar 26, 2014
Were you satisfied with the service you received the last time you needed medical care? If you weren’t, you’re not alone. Turns out, medicine has been behind other industries in customer care. Now, not only are hospitals judged on it, research has also shown a link between patient satisfaction and medical outcomes. Dr. Vivian Lee and Dr. Tom Miller discuss how University of Utah hospitals and clinics are working toward ensuring patients are receiving the best service possible.
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Dr. Lee: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the show. I'm Dr. Vivian Lee, Senior Vice President for Health Sciences at the University of Utah, and today my guest is Dr. Tom Miller, who's the Chief Medical Officer at the University of Utah Hospital and Clinic. Welcome to the show.
Dr. Miller: Thank you, Dr. Lee. It's great to be here.
Dr. Lee: One of the things that really differentiates different hospitals and different clinics is the kind of reception that our patients get when we walk in, when we're cared for, and even when we leave the hospital. The University of Utah has been significantly focused on what we're calling "Patient satisfaction," and that's really an area that you've been responsible for in large part, so maybe you can tell us a little bit from the administrator's perspective. What makes patients happy? What are some of the key drivers in patient satisfaction?
Dr. Miller: Well, patients, like all consumers, want to be recognized. They want to be valued. When they come into a clinic, they want to be greeted. They want to get in and get their problems taken care of and then be able to go home, having had all of their questions answered, having had their issues dealt with in a way that they feel serves them best. And I think the better the job that we do with taking care of these issues for our patients, the emotional issues that they have a need to have them addressed, the happier our patients will be. We do know from studies that when patients believe that their providers, that their staff care about them, they actually do better in the long run with their illness.
Dr. Lee: One of the things that is so interesting is in the rest of the world, in the service industries in hotels, in restaurants, the level of service is really high. I mean, we really expect people to look after us when we walk in. But somehow, often when we go into the clinics and or in the hospital, our expectations are really lowered. Why is that? Why do you think that in the past, certainly, doctors and hospital people were not so tuned into this service aspect?
Dr. Miller: I think we're behind the curve. Four years ago, I noticed that the Internet created the ability for consumers to be able to speak to each other about the value of things that they were purchasing. We know now that from picking a hotel in Paris or buying a piece of clothing from Nordstrom, people are commenting on how well this piece of clothing or the hotel is served.
Dr. Lee: You look for the four-star, five-star, three-star. Right?
Dr. Miller: Absolutely. So we're sort of the last to understand that the consumer, the patient, wants to be able to communicate with other patients about their experience. We need to realize that the world is changing and that, as you mentioned with the hotel industry, they're really having to pay attention to what people are saying online about their products, about their service, and about the way that their particular item is valued by the consumer. It's very important that we understand that, and sometimes I think that we may not realize how important this is for our patients. Its things like, "Does the physician listen to the patient? Does the physician answer the kinds of questions that the patients have no matter how simple or difficult those questions are?" These are the kinds of things that patients are going to rate us on or want to rate us on. We have a choice about it.
Dr. Lee: Yeah. That was one of the interesting things. The first time I brought my daughters into the University of Utah Clinic, a day or so later, I got an email with a bunch of questions. "How was your experience? Did you have to wait? Did you find people receptive?" I can't remember all the questions, but that was the first time I've ever been asked that as a patient.
Dr. Miller: There are vendors now online that ask for patient comments, and this is happening. But a lot of physicians in a lot of . . .
Dr. Lee: But that survey wasn't from a vendor online. That survey was from the University of Utah Hospital Clinic.
Dr. Miller: We now survey all of our patients, and we've been doing that for the last four years.
Dr. Lee: I had never seen that before. That struck me as a little bit unusual.
Dr. Miller: We felt that it was very important to get ahead of the curve here and understand what our patients think about us because we know that out there in the world of the Internet, people are talking about us. They're talking about the care that we deliver. We may not know that, but it is going on, and it's going to become more prevalent over time. It's not going to go away.
Dr. Lee: And you've been using that information to make improvements, I assume?
Dr. Miller: Absolutely.
Dr. Lee: What were some of the big areas that you had to make the biggest changes on?
Dr. Miller: The biggest changes were wait times and understanding that patients' time is very valuable. So it's very important that we understand what it is that our patients expect of our care because if we don't deliver, others will likely do so. So we have to get in line with the way that the rest of the population is looking at value these days.
Dr. Lee: Talk about the next steps. So the University now has this information. It has different scores about different clinics and different doctors in terms of patient satisfaction. What else can you do with that data?
Dr. Miller: We think the very next step is going to be putting our information, which we think is quite objective, online for patients to see so that they can actually look to find out how others think about things that they purchase. We want them to know what others think about physicians. For patients that have actually used our system, how did they feel that they were treated? We would like those who are considering to get care at the University of Utah to realize that we have excellent care.
Dr. Lee: What does that mean? You actually have four or five-star doctors?
Dr. Miller: We're actually the first to do doctors' scores. We're showing five-stars, and we're showing the number of comments that are written by patients, that have received care from our physicians. And, you know, by and large, the vast majority of the comments and scores are excellent. This is what we know that we give in terms of excellent care. We want our patients to know that as well.
Dr. Lee: How do the doctors feel about having their scores? That's so unusual.
Dr. Miller: Initially, they were somewhat squeamish about it, but they've gotten better with that over time. I think they understand that the world is changing and that we don't have a choice. People will rate you. Once you accept that and once you understand that, then it becomes easier. Also, you should realize the kind of care that you're giving the patients. You should understand how they feel about the information you've given them. Was it adequate? Was it the right kind of information? As I said in the beginning, providing the information back to the patient in a way that they understand usually improves the type of treatment that they're taking.
Dr. Lee: This is certainly a good way to get the whole process better in really figuring out where some of the challenges are and helping our doctors and everyone have a better experience for the patients.
Dr. Miller: Simply put, if patients feel good about the care that they received, they will do better in the long-run, and they will continue to use us for their care needs. I think that's what we, really, are after. We want happy patients that are doing well. That's important to us.
Dr. Lee: Great. Well, Dr. Miller, thank you very much for being our guest today.
Dr. Miller: Thank you for having me.
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