The Truth About Patient Satisfaction

Physician Talking to PatientAs healthcare undergoes a profound transformation, providers are being challenged more than ever to understand those factors that contribute to patient satisfaction. Having worked in healthcare for almost a decade now, I know this concern is not completely an altruistic one. The truth is it’s fueled by the one factor that always seems to demand attention: money.

Beginning in 2014 reimbursement rates for healthcare providers will be tied to patient satisfaction scores.

And with that, patient satisfaction- how patients rate their experience across a variety of metrics- went from being a soft performance indicator for healthcare organizations to a financial metric.  For providers of every stripe, knowing the primary factors that shape patients perceptions of their experience is critical for success.

And whether you realize it or not, you already know what they are.  I’ll prove it.

Think back to the last time you were a patient. Did you have an exceptional experience? A poor one?  Was it somewhere in between?  Now answer this question:


What made it exceptional…or poor…or average?

(Go ahead…take a moment to make the list.  I’ll wait right here…)

Got your list?

Chances are the answers you came up with are all related to one factor: the quality of one-on-one interactions you had across your experience. I’m willing to bet that you rated your overall experience based largely on your belief that the people you encountered cared about you – your comfort, your well-being, your time and personal circumstances- and the degree to which they demonstrated that caring.

Whether it was the parking attendant, the front-desk person, the night-shift nurse, the call center, the housekeeper, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the transporter, the dietary worker, the lab tech, or the medical assistant, what mattered most to you was that in the moments you interacted with them they behaved in such a way that you believed they genuinely, authentically, cared about helping YOU.

The quality of one-on-one interactions is the single most influential factor in the patient experience.

Don’t agree? Okay. If you work in a healthcare organization go ahead and call over to your Patient Relations team (or whoever collects your data, complaints, issues for resolution, etc.).  When they answer the phone ask them this question:

On average, what percentage of the complaints we get include some comment or concern about demeanor or “attitude?” 

When I did this in my previous organization I got my answer the next day: “at least 80%.”

That’s right. 80% of the issues being reported by patients included some kind of problem related to the quality of interaction with someone they encountered. I was even told that many patients explicitly stated they would otherwise have not complained and ignored the other issues they reported if not for “the way I was treated.”  And this was in a hospital system rated as a Top 10 overall performer nationally.

Research indicates that providers strongly underestimate patient expectations for service reliability, assurance, responsiveness, and empathy. Specifically they underestimate the degree to which the quality of interactions with patients- the patient’s perception of demeanor, level of concern, and compassion among other dynamics- are used to appraise the overall patient experience.

There is a need for every single person in a healthcare environment to be thoughtful and intentional about the expressive quality of patient interactions. Giving patients our full attention, smiling and making eye contact, explaining delays and giving updates while cutting down on jargon are all critical components of quality one-on-one interactions. Just as important is the energy we bring to these interactions.  Our AFFECT matters. It’s the difference between the patient believing they’re one of many and we’re operating from rote and believing that we truly want what’s best for them

Most healthcare organizations tend to be pretty good at the science of patient care. Those that recognize the art of patient interaction, and prepare their personnel accordingly, won’t have to worry much at all about meeting those patient satisfaction minimums in 2014.

Joe Mull, M.Ed. is President of Ally Training & Development, which provides leadership development, management training, and staff development programs to healthcare providers. He is the author of Cure for the Common Leader: What Physicians & Managers Must Do to Engage & Inspire Healthcare Teams which is available on For more info on Joe visit


One thought on “The Truth About Patient Satisfaction

  1. Pingback: The One Thing All Healthcare Organizations Must Do in the Next 12 Months | Inch by Inch: A Blog for Leaders

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