Thursday, August 25, 2016

A simple method to improve patient satisfaction

Patient experience has become a hot topic today, and hospital managers understand the importance of improving patient satisfaction. One of the things they do is collect patient feedback forms routinely , so that they can act on the complaints they receive, and fix problems. This is all well and good , but the trouble is that most patients and family members don't bother to provide feedback - and the quality of the feedback they give is poor.

This is true for many reasons. Firstly, while the patient is in hospital, they're scared to criticise the medical staff, because they don't want them to get upset . They are worried that negative comments will mean that their patient will be neglected.  This usually means that by the time they're ready for discharge (which is when they are asked to fill up the feedback form) they've often forgotten a lot of the things which they were unhappy about. This is why most of the issues which bother patients never come to management's attention.

Also, the trouble with feedback forms is that they are structured very poorly. They allow very little spontaneity on the part of the user. This is one of the reasons that most of these forms serve only a cosmetic purpose - they are primarily designed to allow the management to show that they listen to the patient's voice. They fail to do what they are meant to, because they are filled in very cursorily , which is why most of these forms are filed and forgotten.

A much bigger disadvantage of the present system is that a lot of useful patient suggestions never reach the ears of the hospital management, which means that a lot of simple fixes never get implemented.

This is why feedback should be collected on an ongoing basis, and patients and their family members should be encouraged to offer suggestions and register their complaints right throughout their hospital stay , rather than only at discharge.

A simple solution would be to display a dedicated mobile number throughout the hospital, to which all visitors could send feedback through WhatsApp . Thus, they could take a photo of a dirty bathroom; or attach a voice message as to what problems they are facing, in their own local language. This would empower patients to complain, because this is best done when they are actively having to tackle the problem. This would be a great way of signalling to patients that the management respects their opinion, and that their voice is important.

With this simple technique, the amount of feedback received would improve dramatically.  The number of suggestions offered to fix the problems would also improve, because the patient now has a way of offering their perspective at the point at which they perceive the pain.

Will the management get swamped by complaints ? I don't think so - and even if they do, this means they have lots of issues to address, and it's far better to do this proactively, rather than allowing problems to fester. The WhatsApp number would be owned by a Patient Relationship Manager, whose job would be to analyse the complaints regularly , and convert these into actionable items. Patients could be incentivized to provide solutions, by offering prizes for the best fixes.
Patients are happy to provide feedback, if we learn to ask them for this on their terms. Paper feedback form are  obsolete . We need to use technology cleverly to encourage patients to provide high quality feedback much more easily. If we do so, they will be much more inclined to offer helpful solutions. Finally, because staff members now know that patients  can easily report bad behaviour to management, they are much more likely to treat patients well, and this is good for everyone !

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