Patient satisfaction relies on communication and respect

By Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published May 10, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Patient-centered care is the gold standard, as studies show satisfied patients are better healthcare consumers.

  • A patient’s expectations set the stage for their future satisfaction levels. 

  • Clinicians can focus on communication to help form realistic expectations and follow up with responsive and respectful interactions.

Satisfaction rates are usually reserved for industries like hospitality and retail. However, as healthcare expands to include more diverse and competitive services, patient satisfaction is becoming an increasingly important indicator for clinicians. 

Not only can happier patients improve your bottom line, they can also help unlock the door to better health outcomes. Here’s what you can do to achieve better patient satisfaction rates without compromising your standards of care.

Expectations drive patient satisfaction

Satisfaction happens when a patient’s expectations are met or exceeded by their healthcare experience.[] And that experience doesn’t just happen in the clinician’s office, it begins with the initial phone call to set up an appointment and ends with the final payment or follow-up visit. Various aspects influence the patient’s perceptions, including the attitude and appearance of office staff, facility cleanliness, ease of appointment setting, waiting times, medical treatment, and the billing process. 

Providing patients with clear and realistic expectations helps set the stage for more satisfying exchanges between the patient and provider, according to Dr. Andrea Eisenberg, writing for Wolters Kluwer.[]

For instance, explaining to a patient that they have a chronic condition requiring ongoing management rather than a cure helps reduce disappointment if treatment stops working. 

When preparing patients for a procedure, clinicians avoid sugarcoating the recovery process and accurately describe anticipated pain levels and other aspects of the healing process. While you don’t want to be overly negative or discourage a patient from necessary treatments, it’s important to be truthful and practical in your approach while emphasizing why the ultimate outcomes are in the patient’s best interests.

What patients want vs. what they need

Healthcare is unlike many other industries in that the desires of the consumer can’t always be a primary driving force. Unfortunately, patient satisfaction may decline when the patient’s wants don’t align with the provider’s recommendations. Taking time to let your patients feel heard can go a long way toward eventually bringing them on board with your suggestions.

Asking open-ended questions and listening without judgment allows the provider to acknowledge a patient’s feelings without necessarily agreeing with them. For instance, you can validate your patient’s preferences to skip painful screenings while remaining opaque about your personal feelings.

With active listening, you can get to the root of their hesitations (fear of pain) and explain why temporary discomfort from the screening is preferred against a life of chronic pain or disability in the event a more serious health problem is overlooked.

This shared decision making can help reduce anxiety and ensure that both the provider's and patient’s agendas are being met.

Ongoing monitoring and reactive response

Today’s patients are different from patients of the past. Cultural norms, socioeconomic factors, and other demographics also impact your patient population’s expectations of healthcare.

As for any successful public-facing venture, medical practices need systems in place to assess clients' preferences as they evolve.

Take, for example, telehealth. While studies show that older adults in the past were reluctant to use virtual medicine, today’s older patient populations don’t have the same level of resistance.[] In fact, many find flexible options like telehealth increase access to services, improving their reported satisfaction levels.

There are nuances in every population, but a few universal factors are known to promote better patient satisfaction among any age group or demographic: Patients expect respect and appreciate responsiveness and professionalism from their healthcare providers. Engaging your patients by learning about their expectations and delivering on those values at every possible touchpoint can help provide a better experience for everyone involved.

What this means for you

The patient experience is subjective and doesn’t always align with best medical practices. But seeing patients as consumers is worth your while in terms of malpractice suits and patient loyalty, as noted by Dr. Eisenberg, and compliance with care. Communication and respect are the first steps to improving the patient experience, and they don’t cost anything to provide.

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