Given the life-saving significance of the health care industry, it can be easy to overlook a simple truism: Health care, in a U.S. context, is a profit-orientated industry. As conventional wisdom articulates, consumer satisfaction is a significant driver of any business’s success, so it follows that patient satisfaction should be a major priority for health care providers.
The push to improve patient satisfaction with health care services has even taken the form of government legislation. For example, there have been programs introduced in recent years, such as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey, which offer health care organizations payment for high patient satisfaction scores. According to the survey website, the initiative’s introduction was designed to provide national, standardized guidelines for measuring patient satisfaction. The introduction of such measures has pushed patient satisfaction questions to the forefront, with health care organizations taking more notice of the need to implement strategies that will bolster patient satisfaction levels.
People who work in the health care environment, whether they are receptionists or surgeons, are charged with providing patients with the best possible care, and nursing staff are no exception. Registered nurses and nurse managers can implement a number of approaches to help ensure that patients remain as satisfied as possible.
What drives patient satisfaction?
Understanding effective strategies for improving patient satisfaction first necessitates a closer look at what the term “patient satisfaction” means and at the factors that help drive higher satisfaction scores. According to an article from Bobbie Berkowitz, Ph.D., RN, published in The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, overall patient satisfaction refers to levels of happiness with regard to health care services provided. Satisfaction typically is determined by a patient’s response to a number of metrics.
For example, the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey uses patient contentment measurements for issues such as the communication of important medical details from providers, levels of comfort and/or pain while being cared for, how well medical staff communicate in general, how clean facilities are perceived to be and so on. The crux of the survey is to place a data-driven measurement on how patients subjectively perceive health care conditions.
The question, however, remains, “Under what conditions do patients respond favorably to the health care they receive?” Berkowitz cited a study from David J. Kupfer and Edward Bond, who argued that what constitutes quality health care actually varies between patients. For example, patient A may enter a health care facility with certain preconceived expectations of the kind of care he would like to receive. These expectations may differ slightly, or considerably, from those held by patient B. Kupfer and Bond elaborated that high satisfaction scores typically are noted by patients when their own subjective expectations are met or transcended. When conditions do not meet preconceived expectations, scores tend to be lower.
Despite the subjective nature of patient satisfaction, Berkowitz noted that there are strong trends with regard to the factors that produce higher satisfaction scores. She cited a study from Kahn, Iannuzzi, Stassen, Bankey, and Gestring, which found that metrics such as the level of pain experienced, interpersonal relationships with health care providers and speed at which care is administered overwhelmingly drive both negative and positive satisfaction scores.
Based on that data, health care providers should implement an array of strategies that meet various kinds of expectations relative to quality patient care, while acknowledging that what constitutes acceptable standards may differ between individual patients. The best patient satisfaction scores likely are attained by health care facilities when all providers go consistently above and beyond standardized care expectations.
Strategies for nursing staff
Nursing staff work on the frontlines of patient care, and frontline professionals can adopt a number of strategies to improve patient satisfactions levels.
1. Providing comprehensive information
When it comes to details about health care, the phrase “ignorance is bliss” seldom is embraced by patients. Most individuals want to know details about their care, whether that involves receiving medication for a simple infection or life-saving surgery. Nursing staff should be on hand toprovide detailed information to patients at all times, contributor Jennifer Ward wrote for online resource Nurse Together. The information will need to be delivered in varying ways among patient populations, with factors such as a patient’s wishes and level of health literacy determining how that information is relayed. For example, some patients may benefit from a one-on-one didactic conversation, while others will need written materials to gauge a more comprehensive understanding of their condition and the care process.
Ward stressed that it is helpful for nurses to have at hand an array of educational resources that can be passed on to patients, from videos to literature in the form of brochures or website links.
2. Helping patients use technology
From electronic health records to telemedicine platforms and smartphone applications, technology not only has streamlined provider workflows but also has encouraged patient engagement with their personal health care. Berkowitz, for example, reported on a study from Marla Weston and Darryl W. Roberts that investigated the use of technology across three large health care organizations from the perspective of nurse leaders. Berkowitz focused on one health care organization mentioned in the study — the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). At the DVA, patient satisfaction levels increased in response to the introduction of a patient portal platform. Patients can use the technology to access critical information pertaining to their health. The availability of this information no doubt increased patient satisfaction at the DVA because the patients were able to get more involved in their care. Nursing staff can play a critical role in helping patients understand and use such platforms.
3. Displaying empathy and understanding
Patients will be more satisfied with their care when they feel they are being listened to. Micah Solomon, writing for Forbes, explained how health care professionals who display empathy and understanding improve the care of their patients because they know their health care provider is going to extra lengths for them. This is especially important in situations where patients feel that mistakes have been made or there have been lapses in care. For example, when a patient makes a request or issues a complaint, nursing staff should react with care and compassion, not with indifference or a defensive attitude. Solomon stated that this approach means that nurse managers, in particular, should take responsibility for educating their staff on effective conflict resolution skills.
The above strategies are just a few ways that nursing professionals can make a positive difference in terms of the care they deliver, which in turn can help boost patient satisfaction scores.
Consider Bradley University
If you’re keen to ensure that patient satisfaction remains a top priority, consider embarking on a career as a nurse manager. In this role you’ll have the agency to ensure that your staff delivers only the finest care, boosting patient satisfaction scores as a corollary.
The first step on your journey to this role is with an application to Bradley University’s online Master of Science in Nursing Program. Designed with flexibility in mind, the online format of the program means that you can study at a time and pace that best suits your busy professional schedule.