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Reader Question: Satisfaction data essential tool in accreditation
Satisfaction surveys can augment QI efforts
Question: Our hospital routinely surveys patients and family members to gauge satisfaction with our services, but so far we haven’t really used those results in our accreditation efforts.
Can the data be used to show compliance with Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations’ standards, for instance?
Answer: Yes, patient satisfaction data can be an important tool in accreditation activities, says Mary P. Malone, MS, JD, executive director for consulting services with Press Ganey Associates in South Bend, IN.
To get the most out of patient satisfaction data, Malone says you must help staff understand that the scores are more than just abstract data beyond their control. They must understand that the data can be affected by the implementation of certain policies and procedures, for instance, and not just by people working harder.
The most obvious potential for using patient satisfaction data lies with the Joint Commission’s requirements for information management and using data for performance improvement.
"A lot of that section talks about using benchmark data to drive quality improvement, and these data can fit into that process," Malone says.
"When you focus on an issue and then look at what the patients say, the data are going to point out areas to improve," she explains. "You also can dig into the data and see if younger or older people are affected differently, or whether there are special concerns on the second shift or in the emergency department. Then you can use those insights gleaned from the data to ask your staff why patients and family members might be saying this."
Malone also encourages quality improvement professionals to seek other patient satisfaction data, nationally or from sister health care facilities. Patient satisfaction data often represent the final, end-user assessment of how well processes work within an organization, so survey data can highlight best practices that you may want to emulate.
Similarly, patient satisfaction data from your own organization can highlight systems and individuals who score especially well with patients. Those systems and individuals can be recognized for their good survey results.
"The survey results can be used very powerfully to reward and recognize people for doing a good job," she says. "Those successes become learning opportunities for the organization."
Malone says she sees health care providers make two major mistakes when they try to incorporate patient satisfaction data into their accreditation and quality improvement programs. The first is that people tend to overly personalize the data.
"Individuals often take the results very personally and get defensive, saying they did the best they could," Malone says.
"That defensiveness creates barriers and nothing gets done. They feel like they were criticized and then nothing good comes of it. You have to present the data in a way that discourages them from taking it so personally," she says.
The other common problem is allowing health care providers to think that the patient satisfaction survey results are beyond their control.
"If you’re looking at length-of-stay data, nobody just stares at it and says they wish it would go down. They look at what they can change to make the numbers go down," Malone says. "That doesn’t always happen with patient survey data."
To drive patient satisfaction scores up, you must encourage staff to think in terms of what processes might be improved and how those processes affect patient satisfaction. That may sound obvious, but Malone says people sometimes look at patient satisfaction data more simply than they see other data, thinking it is just a popularity contest they can’t really influence.
"You must make the connection between what you do every day and the score on the patient satisfaction survey," she says.
"Clients who do that well tend to be among the benchmark performers, and clients who don’t make that connection are those who don’t do as well in quality measures. They may not do terribly, but they don’t have breakthrough achievements," Malone adds.