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4 tips to help deal with pressures of patient satisfaction surveys

Patient satisfaction surveys increase the pressures physicians face in the quest for perfection in delivering care.

Alexander Torres, DO, can’t recall a shift as a resident or an attending physician where he didn’t have a patient upset with him, even if the complaint was something completely unrelated to medicine, such as not getting a blanket fast enough.

“It really does weigh on a person at the end of the day,” says Dr. Torres, an EMS and disaster medicine fellow at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in New Jersey.

As a medical student, Dr. Torres never imagined he would have extensive conversations with patients telling him what they wanted and threatening a negative patient satisfaction survey if he didn’t comply, but that is exactly what has happened. He says it’s common for his patients to demand specific prescriptions or unnecessary testing.

Negative feedback can increase the stress that providers face. In one study, 78 percent of physicians reported that patient satisfaction surveys affected their job satisfaction and more than a quarter of physicians surveyed said they had considered quitting their jobs or leaving medicine.

“They are here and they’re going to stay,” says John Hitchcock, DO, an emergency medicine resident at Comanche County Memorial Hospital in Lawton, Oklahoma.

The pressures to be perfect get magnified. Here are four tips to help deal with the stress:

  1. Get a second opinion

At one time or another, most physicians will get a lower satisfaction score than they expected.

“It shocked me because I didn’t even realize the patient was unsatisfied,” Dr. Hitchcock says.

A colleague, mentor or medical director can give a fresh perspective and provide guidance to determine if it’s truly an area in your care that needs improvement.

“Sometimes we can be set in our ways and you need an extra set of eyes to objectively look at it,” Dr. Torres says.

  1. A four- out of five-star rating is above average 

Thomas Dardarian, DO, president-elect of the American College of Osteopathic Obstetricians and Gynecologists in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, takes his online ratings to heart, but within reason.

“A four is a great score. It’s above average and shouldn’t be looked down upon,” Dr. Dardarian says. “You have to be a superstar, absolutely perfect to get a five.”

He compares reading the reviews on websites such as Healthgrades to athletes reading a critique of how they played the Sunday night game in the Monday paper.

Dr. Torres prefers to focus on objective feedback he receives from his institution.

“We are human beings with families, and getting home and reading a bunch of negative reviews is not going to improve practice or home life,” Dr. Torres says.

  1. Be confident in your practice of medicine

Receiving a low score may frustrate you or make you question your abilities as a provider.

“Just because a patient is not completely satisfied, doesn’t mean you did the wrong thing,” Dr. Torres says. “You need to feel confident in your care and be able to justify it. I know I was trained well.”

Patient satisfaction surveys can give useful feedback,  but practicing safe and evidence-based medicine should be at the forefront of care.

  1. Explain your decision-making process to patients

Dr. Hitchcock will remind himself that the word “doctor” is derived from the Latin word “teacher”. Part of his job as a physician is to teach his patients what is happening with their bodies. He says time is one of the most valuable things you can give your patients.

“It takes a lot longer to explain to them why they don’t need an antibiotic than to write a prescription,” Dr. Hitchcock says.

Dr. Dardarian has open and honest discussions about the opioid epidemic with his patients.

“Tell them the reason you’re not going to prescribe them the narcotics they don’t need because a lot of patients get hooked on a basic prescription,” Dr. Dardarian says. “

For Additional Reading:

When your patients are taking Gwyneth Paltrow’s medical advice

How I Practice: Building patient satisfaction through whole-person care

Identifying patients with a history of sexual assault can improve care

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