Patient surveys can help practices improve

Experts say measuring satisfaction with doctor visits is key to achieving a patient-centered practice culture.

By Kevin B. O’Reilly — Posted Oct. 8, 2009

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Health plans increasingly are grading physicians by surveying patients about their experiences with everything from receptionists to bedside manners, even sending so-called secret-shopper patients into practices.

Now some clinics are taking matters into their own hands by using a National Quality Forum-endorsed survey tool to help their efforts to provide more patient-centered care.

The Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Clinician & Group Survey was developed by the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality and endorsed by the NQF as a measure of patient-centered care in July 2007. The free survey gives practices a standardized way to measure patient satisfaction with all aspects of their experience, from getting appointments to communicating with doctors (link).

Massachusetts General Medical Group, an eight-physician, primary-care practice in Boston, surveyed its patients in 2007 to find out what they thought about their office staff's performance. Only 43% of patients rated the office staff as helpful, while 64% found the staff courteous.

The findings left room for improvement, said David Finn, MD, associate medical director of the practice, and drove the group to invest in staff training, practice retreats and bonuses for top-notch service. When patients were surveyed again this year, staff helpfulness rose to 56% and staff courtesy increased to 77%.

"Our aim is for us to be the best-rated practice across the board, and with our efforts, I hope we will be," Dr. Finn said during a September briefing about how clinics are using the CAHPS Clinician & Group Survey.

Providing care that matches patient expectations is not just about whether receptionists smile when greeting patients. The survey also asks about whether physicians respect what patients have to say, know their medical history and take enough time to visit with them.

"You have to have the involvement of everybody in your practice, and I think that especially includes the physicians," Dr. Finn said. "The behaviors and activities that physicians are not doing well with have to be pointed out and coached, and expectations have to be high for everybody. You can't just focus on the phones or the secretaries."

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