Don’t fret if you can’t find your benchmarking mate

Satisfaction data can come from other industries

You could impress your Joint Commission surveyor by benchmarking your patient satisfaction survey results. One obvious way to do this would be to compare your survey data with data collected by similar home care agencies.

Luckily, this isn’t the only way to benchmark patient satisfaction, suggests John Herringer, associate director of department of standards for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations in Oakbrook Terrace, IL. And it may be difficult to find your benchmarking mate if your agency is atypical in any way. (See related story in Homecare Quality Management, March 1997, p. 40.)

The Joint Commission’s standards require organizations to compare their patient satisfaction data to the data of other organizations, and Herringer says general customer satisfaction data might also apply.

"People don’t understand that they don’t have to compare themselves to another health care organization," Herringer says. "Certainly Federal Express, UPS, L.L. Bean, and others are constantly measuring data and comparing themselves for satisfaction."

General customer satisfaction questions can be translated from one industry to another, Herringer adds. These include:

• How accurate was the information you received?

• Were things explained in terms you could understand?

• When we made a change in your service schedule, did we let you know in advance?

• Was your bill easily understandable?

• Did you get connected with a person who could answer your call in a timely manner?

The Joint Commission also attends to these aspects of customer satisfaction. "We have a policy of not transferring calls unless the caller wants to be transferred," Herringer notes. "We offer to take their number, find out an answer, and get back to them ourselves, and we want to answer the phone in three rings."

There might be some survey items that are so specific to health care that another industry’s benchmarks won’t work, Herringer adds.

Look for award-winning companies

Quality managers who are interested in using benchmarks developed by other types of companies could call the quality improvement department of a company like Freeport, ME-based L.L. Bean and ask the staff what kind of customer satisfaction data are collected, he suggests.

Managers can find companies that have excellent customer service programs by checking the local library for articles on companies that have won quality awards, such as the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award. Also, Press, Ganey Associates of South Bend, IN, annually recognizes its clients in health care that have effectively used patient satisfaction data to improve quality.

"A lot of organizations are doing an outstanding job in customer satisfaction, so they’re more than happy to share that information," Herringer adds.

L.L. Bean will answer requests for benchmark information with a letter, a benchmark application, and a benchmark agreement. The sporting goods/clothing catalog company also will provide a benchmark code of conduct that lists principles that individuals and companies involved in benchmarking should follow. These include legal issues of trade secrets; sharing benchmark information without permission; confidentiality; communication between benchmark partners; preparation; completion; and contact lists.

[Editor’s note: To obtain L.L. Bean’s benchmark application, agreement, and Benchmarking Code of Conduct, you may write to Margaret Orth, Benchmarking Program Developer, L.L. Bean, Upham Building, Freeport, ME 04033, or call (207) 552-6677, ext. 4419, or fax at (207) 552-3073. Her e-mail address is:]