American Medical News
By — Posted April 29, 2013
Satisfaction with the health care system, overall, has been on a steady incline in recent years, reaching a 20-year high in 2013.
The American Customer Satisfaction Index found that health care satisfaction has reached 80 on a scale of 100, up 1.9% from the previous year. Ambulatory care, which includes physician office visits, beat out hospital care with an 82 compared with a 78. But one area of hospital care — outpatient — had a score of 83, nearly equal to ambulatory care. ACSI surveys about 70,000 consumers every year.
The slow and steady rise of satisfaction in all care settings reflects an ongoing trend toward physicians and hospitals improving the patient experience, said David VanAmburg, managing director of ACSI.
The data also show the impact of medical advancements that make it possible for patients to receive more care in ambulatory and outpatient settings. That makes a difference, because patients generally prefer quick and efficient care, VanAmburg said.
When compared with care patients receive in emergency departments, which are associated with high costs regardless of insurance status and long wait times, physician office and outpatient visits have long come out on top. VanAmburg said it was no surprise that emergency departments scored a 70.
The survey did not look at patient costs or insurance status, which were covered in a separate survey and fared much worse. But cost probably affects patient behavior and perceptions. Data released by ACSI in December 2012 showed that satisfaction of insurers had remained unchanged, at 72, from the previous year. The report also noted that as more consumers opt for high-deductible health plans, out-of-pocket expenses were expected to escalate.
Because patients are paying more, they are demanding value, VanAmburg said. “You have people doing that balancing act of, ‘Well, I am paying more, so I am going to try to get the best I can get out of it, so I am going to do more picking and choosing and be more discerning,’ ” he said.
The American Medical Association encourages medical practices to measure and respond to patient satisfaction concerns. It says patient feedback can guide practices through quality improvement efforts and staffing decisions while gaining a competitive edge. The AMA, in partnership with the patient experience consulting firm Press Ganey, offers a patient surveying product.
Although it’s too soon to see how a recent change in Medicare will affect hospital satisfaction scores, it probably will contribute to the steady climb. In a move toward a pay-for-performance model of compensation, Medicare will cut or reward hospitals by 1% depending on how they fare on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey. The survey, given to patients after they have been discharged, was expanded to include questions such as whether their nurses and doctors treated them with courtesy and respect, the cleanliness of their rooms, and how their pain was managed.
VanAmburg said hospitals must pay more attention to customer satisfaction or lose patients to the competition. “Anything else that can come into play that forces hospitals to do better, to keep the money they are getting — that, in a sense, is a kind of supplement or replacement to true competition where it may be lacking.”