There is a lot of talk these days about patient satisfaction. For several years, hospitals have been mandated by CMS to survey their discharged patients about their experiences. The results have been publicly reported and payments are tied to performance. This approach, including the use of a federally mandated standard questionnaire and the linking of payment by CMS to scores, is also planned for physician practices. These policies, which are being adopted by private insurers as well as government payers, have been credited with forcing hospitals and doctors to be more attentive to “customer service.”
It is hard to argue against the need for better service, and for better attention to patients’ comfort, and these programs seem to be working (registration required). But a couple of things about this whole approach leave me feeling more sad than inspired.
First, I think it is sad that it literally took an act of Congress for us to pay attention to what our patients think about us, and to how well we treat them. How did that happen for a profession dedicated to relieving suffering and curing illness?
Second, I really don’t like talking about “satisfaction.” Maybe it is just semantics, but satisfaction seems like such a low bar. We may be satisfied with our hotel rooms or our new cars, but why aren’t we striving for something more profound in our interactions with patients? I would want to know if my patients feel cared for, respected, or comforted.
If you want to be inspired by physicians who didn’t need a survey or a threatened pay cut to get them to pay attention to their patients’ needs, watch this. And remember the immortal word of Francis Weld Peabody, that “the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”