An employee and patient satisfaction survey can help uncover the brutal facts about your business. Such a survey assists in finding the true motivations and passions of the people who make up an organization. By embarking on this bold journey of discovery, you can start to build a great company.
Note: This post on patient satisfaction was originally published in Pain Medicine News in 2012; reprinted with permission.
Dear Boost Medical:
I understand that keeping my patients and staff happy is important, but I’m not sure how to gauge this. I am often running from the office to the surgery center and then to meetings, so I rarely have enough time to stop and ask, “How is the patient experience?” or “Does my staff enjoy working here?” How can I be certain?
—Successful MD With a Busy Schedule
Now more than ever, patients have an abundance of choices in who provides their care. They can easily find ratings and opinions of you and your practice online. Do not despair though—there are proactive steps you can take to engage your patients and your staff to address negative issues. By doing so, you’ll create an environment of healing for patients, and a sense of purpose for your staff.
The answer to your question lies in the idea of confronting the “brutal facts.” In his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, Jim Collins explores this concept and argues it is a cornerstone of running a successful business. More specifically, it is a concept he refers to as “The Stockdale Paradox.” Collins defines the paradox as such: “You must maintain unwavering faith you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Collins argues that the idea of facing an ugly, unhappy reality plagues organizations and prevents transformation of businesses because leaders are simply too far removed from reality. In medical practices, this can be exacerbated by two facts: 1) owners are kept extremely busy as practicing physicians; and 2) owners are also strongly biased. This can create an environment where staff members do not want to speak up when an opportunity for progress is recognized; worse, it can promote a situation where staff buries important feedback (either from staff or patients, or both).
So how does the busy physician-owner solicit such brutal facts from his or her patients or staff? How does a physician who was never made to take an organizational behavior class in medical school create a culture of openness?
It is important to recognize that as a physician you were trained to save the day. When running a business, physicians must learn to accept that they cannot do it all. They need someone they can trust to make decisions when they are busy doing procedures, providing care to patients in the office or building relationships in the community. They need to identify someone who believes in their work; this trusted individual will help create an environment conducive both to quality patient care and meaningful work for employees.
Gauging Patient Satisfaction
When it comes to patient satisfaction, a practice must be prepared to be both proactive and reactive. Physician rating sites like Vitals.com and RateMDs.com are constant, permanent reminders of how easy it is for a patient to leave a clinic and complain. Such negativity can broadcast that the wait time was excruciatingly long, or that the physician’s bedside manner leaves something to be desired.
These rating sites are only growing in popularity. The most the physician can hope to do is participate in the conversation and focus on listening to the message, even if the details aren’t exactly as the physician remembers them. By actively engaging patient feedback online, the physician will not only mitigate the likelihood of lashing out, but it will force him or her to “confront the brutal facts.”
Physician responses should not be specific, lest they violate HIPAA regulations. Rather, physicians look at making comments as an opportunity to state their philosophy on patient care, and further, acknowledge that they are listening and taking steps to improve the patient experience. Logistically, we recommend that physicians make it the responsibility of one person in the practice to monitor all online posts about their practice. This should take no more than 15 to 30 minutes per day, including a report back to the organization of what was published about the practice online.
But why should physicians wait for patients to leave their office before telling them how much they are appreciated and ask for their feedback? Proactive steps should be taken to engage patients the moment they walk through the practice doors. We recommend two simple things: 1) a five- to seven-item questionnaire (either physical or digital); and 2) a medical assistant asking one additional question: “Is there anything else we can do to make your visit better?”
The task of collecting this information should be assigned to the office manager and he or she should enter the data into a spreadsheet. This will allow the practitioner to generate satisfaction scores for each item and help identify areas for improvement. Additionally, the same manager should take any specific feedback and share both the positive and negative results with the entire staff during a weekly meeting. Staff members should be publicly recognized when they exhibit behaviors that help deliver a better experience for patients. This kind of behavioral reinforcement will, with time, have a dramatic effect on the way a practice responds to patient feedback, and will let patients know that their practitioner cares about their well-being.
Feelings of pride and self-worth are critical to our happiness as human beings. Because we spend at least one-third of our lives working, being unsatisfied with our job or career can have a major influence on our overall happiness. In a medical practice, it too often can be the case that we focus on a successful outcome rather than the process.
When a physician performs a procedure or diagnoses a patient with a complicated condition, it can be easy to forget that there were a lot of pieces to the puzzle that put that patient in the same time and place as you. When we instituted our “Anonymous Feedback Form,” I received disconcerting feedback that one of our employees did not feel that her work made a difference. Because I believe in the mission statement and vision of our company, I thought, “If this employee knew how vital her role is to the success of our business, she would be proud to work here.”
This began a journey diving to the core of what our employees think, feel and believe about our organization, and their individual contribution to the greater whole. I began to ask myself: “Is everyone on the same page?” “Does every person—from the physician to the person answering the phones—know and understand the vision of the company?” and “Do employees understand their unique role in the whole picture?”
As the CEO, I would have to face the brutal facts in discovering the employees’ honest opinions. I knew that these answers would be essential in moving our organization to further success. I had a theory: If any employee who has contact with a patient is unhappy with his or her job, the patient will feel the effects. And thus, patient satisfaction would decrease. Patient satisfaction is most likely directly related to employee satisfaction, so improving one would likely improve the other.
One of the things that make our organization unique is our physicians’ strong interest in research. We have a PhD on our staff who spends most of his time doing business research and clinical trials for our company. He put together a survey asking pointed questions about employee satisfaction. This included work environment, knowledge of the mission statement, whether or not the employee feels rewarded, and most importantly, whether the employee would recommend our facility to their own mom or dad.
I sent an email to the organization expressing some of my goals, which included making our company a highly desirable place to work, for each person to realize the purpose we serve in the community, and to understand the value we bring to patients. The vision was clear: Completing the survey would help us improve. I emphasized the anonymity of the form (which I hoped would help ensure honest feedback) and provided the link to the survey.
I committed to presenting the results to the company within two weeks. Transparency is a key to maintaining a healthy approachability with the employees.
The results were in, and the feedback was indicative of a young organization experiencing a tremendous amount of growth in a short period of time. Some 54.1% of the employees viewed their employment as a job, whereas 45.9% viewed their employment as a career. What’s more, 70% of employees agreed or strongly agreed that our mission statement is clearly defined. This was good news to me. However, I want 100% of our employees to understand our mission. Also, some 87% of employees agreed or strongly agreed that their work makes a difference on a daily basis.
Further statistical analysis showed employees who see their work as a career versus a job, are more likely to believe the organization is a good company to work for, feel that their work makes a difference and believe in the organization’s mission. Moreover, it revealed that the more the employee believes in the company’s mission statement, the more motivated he or she is to do the job, the more he or she believes hard work is rewarded, and the happier he or she is in the position.
Happy employees beget happy patients. A survey like this can be beneficial on multiple levels if the information is used by improving processes, communication and overall morale. However, it is important to realize that it takes time to make significant changes. Even in a young organization like ours, people are creatures of habit and patience is needed to achieve true transformation.
My task was clear: I needed to make sure every employee understood the mission statement of our company. Together our executive staff and I toured each facility, presenting each employee with a card to carry with our mission and purpose statements. I gave a speech charging them to take pride in their work and reminding them that they are each an important part of the big picture. I was astounded that many of our employees had never heard our inspiring story. Each employee now carries the card behind their badge and understands what it means to work for our company.
It’s key to any organization’s success to have a realistic perspective of employee satisfaction. A leader must look at the product of such a survey with the intent to produce positive change and the perseverance to ensure results. It takes courage to examine the brutal facts of an employee survey, but it is a necessary endeavor if one wishes to maximize the potential success of one’s practice.
Creating a happy, positive work environment for employees is an integral part of any successful practice; sometimes, achieving this requires a willingness on the part of its leaders to look in the mirror and confront the brutal facts. It’s always easier to look through a window than it is to look in the mirror, but sometimes it is necessary to look in the mirror and realize that change, although difficult, is necessary to improve the culture and success of your business. The results are well worth it.
—Joe Carlon, MBA, Tory McJunkin, MD, Paul Lynch, MD, and Ryan Tapscott, PhD
Dr. McJunkin and Dr. Lynch founded Arizona Pain Specialists, a comprehensive pain management practice with three locations, seven pain physicians, 10 midlevel providers, three chiropractors, on-site research and behavioral therapy. They teach nationally and are consultants for St. Jude Medical and Stryker Interventional Spine. Through their partner company, Boost Medical, they provide practice management and consulting services to other pain doctors throughout the country. Joe Carlon is CEO of Boost Medical. For more information, visit ArizonaPain.com and BoostMedical.com.