Face it. Hospitals, just like restaurants, retail stores, and every other consumer-facing business, are subject to the opinions and experience of those who enter its doors.
And, while improving patient satisfaction in the ED isn’t directly tied to a hospital’s reimbursements, studies show that more than three-fourths of all unscheduled admissions — a major source of hospital revenue — come through the emergency department. That means that patient satisfaction scores are not only vital to an emergency department’s reputation but also to the well-being of the entire hospital.
Rather than completely overhauling the practice, emergency medicine clinicians who provide an exceptional standard of care can improve patient satisfaction by using these ten tried-and-proven customer service techniques:
1. See Your Patient as Quickly as Possible
One of the chief complaints from patients has to do with the time it takes to see a doctor. To remedy that, see your patient as quickly as possible.
Set the expectation that you will be the fastest provider in the room by being present when the nurse first starts her assessment (or arriving even before she begins). You can bet the nurse and the patient will take notice.
2. Introduce Yourself
Another frequent complaint from patients is that, in the mix of providers and other staff they encountered during their visit, they were never told who the actual doctor was. An easy fix is to ensure that you introduce yourself clearly. Even better, take a second to write your name on a whiteboard in the room.
3. Apologize for Wait Times
Long wait times rank high on the list of patient satisfaction complaints. Even if there isn’t much of a wait, start every conversation with an introduction and apology. “Hi, I am Dr. Richter. Sorry you had to wait — it’s been a busy day. What can I do for you?” is a good way to lessen a patient’s frustration.
4. Sit Down
Several studies show that when a provider sits at the bedside, rather than stands while discussing a patient’s history, the patient perceives the provider has spent significantly more time with him. Sitting down also offers a spatial benefit, putting you and the patient on the same level, allowing you to have a conversation without being overbearing.
5. Acknowledge Everyone in the Room
A common complaint coming from family members is that the doctor never looks at them. Make it a point to acknowledge any family or friends in the room, introduce yourself, and smile. The action denotes a sense of respect and courtesy.
6. Make Sincere Eye Contact
Accurate charting is exceptionally important, but avoid staring down at and writing in your chart the entire time you’re conversing with the patient. Look him or her in the eye when you ask questions and when you listen, and then look down to enter information.
7. Don’t Skip the Exam
Patients feel better cared for when you listen to their heart and lungs even if the injury doesn’t call for it. In the age of tests for everything, we often forget the power “laying on of hands” can have on patient satisfaction.
8. Be Available to Your Patients
Stop in your patients’ rooms periodically when you pass by on your way to something else — just to see if they need anything. Ask how they’re feeling and introduce yourself to any new family members. It only takes a second but is one of the most impactful things you can do to make them feel cared for.
9. Continually Explain Your Thoughts
Continuous communication with patients and their families is one sure way to improve patient satisfaction. Let them in on your differential diagnosis, what you think is likely and unlikely, and how you plan to narrow down the list. Let them know if you’re anticipating admission or discharge so they can begin to make plans.
“Well, your chest pain could be any number of things, but we’re going to try to narrow it down. You might have a problem with your heart or lungs, so we’re going to do a chest X-ray and some blood tests. It also might be a problem with your stomach or esophagus, such as heartburn. To be safe, we need to do several tests, and I may need to have another doctor see you just to make sure. Do you have any questions at this point?”
10. Explain the Test Results
When labs and tests are back and you have made a decision, discuss it with the patient and his family. Return to the room to let them know why you made a decision to admit or discharge, and explain the test results.
Sit down and answer any questions from the patient or family, and then finish your time with them by asking if they have any questions.
After you have answered these questions, ask if they have any more. Do this until they run out of questions. Finally, stand up, thank them for their patience, and ask if there is anything you could have done better to make their experience more positive.