10 Steps to Maximizing Patient Loyalty: How to Effectively Use Real-time Patient Feedback to Effect Positive Change within a Physician Group Practice

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To save you having to read a long introduction to this article, below is the short, bulleted list regarding how to use real-time patient feedback to effect positive change within your physician group practice.  
Following the list you will find real-world, physician practice applications for each step.

  1. Enlist the support of physicians and other leadership
  2. Ask patients about their care experience using a systematic method
  3. Gather and process patient feedback continuously
  4. ACT on patient feedback straightaway when appropriate
  5. Pass along patient compliments soon after the patient’s visit
  6. Coach & counsel (when needed) soon after the patient’s visit
  7. Provide physicians with practice-unique results & data comparisons
  8. Analyze patient feedback to identify improvement opportunities
  9. Collaborate with key decision makers — create viable action-plans
  10. Execute action-plans – Measure, Monitor, and Modify as needed

Using M3-Patient Experience, MedicalGPS’ proprietary real-time patient feedback system, the 10 steps listed above can be, and indeed are routinely employed in physician practices all across the country to improve and sustain high levels of patient loyalty and satisfaction.  Recently Marty Hudson, MedicalGPS’ president, and I had the opportunity to work closely with eight better-performing physician practice groups that utilize M3-Patient Experience.  Our case study revealed several recurring best-practice management techniques. The eight case study physician groups were selected as a result of either; their ability to substantially improve patient satisfaction over time, and/or demonstrating their capacity to sustain outstanding levels of patient satisfaction long-term.  
Below are some of our findings and other real-world experiences.

  1. Enlist the support of participating physicians and other leadership

As was the case with each of the eight case study groups, before embarking on any service improvement project, enlisting the support of physicians and other key decision makers is essential to achieving success.   Some practical ways to involve your team may include:

  • Review survey methodology at staff meeting (s) before moving forward
  • Allowing physicians and support staff to take “test” surveys
  • Insist on data transparency to gain physician and staff buy-in
  • Share success stories from other M3-Patient Experience users

  1. Ask patients about their care experience using a systematic method

Use a tested survey instrument and methodology to gather patient feedback.  If you decide to develop an in-house survey questionnaire, enlist the assistance of a qualified professional (statistician) to help develop the process and test for statistical validity and reliability.  Systematically and consistently apply the survey method.

  1. Gather and process patient feedback continuously

When I first began my healthcare career in 1994 my first assignment was to facilitate the development and deployment of a patient satisfaction survey for a large physician practice management company.  We invented a process to gather patient feedback using laptop computers strategically placed in the waiting rooms of physician offices and then have that data transmitted to our corporate office for processing.  The result?  We had invented the proto-type of M3-Patient Experience.  Turn the clock forward a couple of decades to today, and with the advancements of the internet, patient feedback may be obtained in real-time allowing practice managers and other decision makers the opportunity to incorporate patient feedback into management of their day to day operation.

  1. ACT on patient feedback straightaway when appropriate

A very effective method to create and/or sustain a culture of service excellence is to recognize team members for a job well done immediately following the event that generated the positive experience for the patient.  Similarly, coaching and counseling support staff soon after a service failure helps minimize the impact of the service failure on the culture of the organization.

  1. Pass along patient compliments soon after the patient’s visit

A real-world example:  During our case study we asked the practice manager of a four provider internal medicine practice what her experience was, relative to being able to use the real-time patient feedback functionality of M3-patient Experience.  The practice manager said, “I usually print hard-copies of patient compliments within an hour or two of receiving them, then I write a big THANK YOU! on top of the survey print out and leave a copy on the employee’s chair – they love it”.   Consider this — patients seen ‘yesterday’ provide positive feedback regarding their visit the same day as their visit, or the day following, specifically naming an individual member of your team, and that specific feedback equips your practice manager to congratulate that team member for job well done!

  1. Coach & counsel staff (when needed) soon after the patient’s visit

Acting on legitimate critical patient feedback allows practice leadership the opportunity to do service recovery, or support staff coaching and counseling, very soon following a less-than-desirable service lapse.  Regarding real-time patient feedback; the same practice manager mentioned above went on to say, “I must admit, when I get a negative patient survey, I print a hard copy and place the survey summary in the physician’s inbox.”  The point the practice manager wanted to make was that her physicians wanted to know when a patient wasn’t treated the way they wanted them to be treated, and her physicians were, and are, dedicated to making sure their patients receive the very best in service and care.
Using patient feedback to manage the office, on a day in and day out basis, is a simple, yet powerful leadership technique that transforms the culture of the office into a culture of service excellence, one patient at a time.

  1. Provide physicians with practice-unique results and comparisons

Make available a reporting decision support system that provides data specific to a particular practice, with benchmark comparisons that are uniquely tailored to the practice.  An easy-to-navigate interactive reporting system allows physicians the opportunity to look horizontally across the practice and across their organization, comparing their practice to peer-group aggregations, and that same interactive reporting tool provides vertical drill-down capability that allows the physician and other decision makers the opportunity to obtain granular detail when needed. Ease of data management by the end-user (physicians and healthcare administrators) helps gain confidence in using the data to support making changes / improvements to the office or physician practice.  

  1. Analyze patient feedback to identify improvement opportunities

Utilize easy to read graphics, or dashboards, to help identify opportunities for service improvement.  When we first developed the reporting suite for M3-Patient Experience we envisioned a set of heads-up dashboards that would allow busy physicians as well as healthcare administrators the ability to have actionable information, literally, at the click of a button.  Whether your practice uses M3-Patient Experience or another survey tool, work toward having a dashboard of information that you can quickly access — a dashboard that transforms data into actionable information.

  1. Collaborate with key decision makers — create viable action-plans

When service improvement opportunities are just beginning to come into focus, before moving too far into the solution development phase, enlist the help of the experts that surround you to create action plans that are viable and sustainable.  Experts are usually those support staff that perform the tasks associated with the perceived service failure and/or staff that are part of the solution.  For example, one of the practice managers in our case study mentioned that she had feedback from one patient that their doctor would abruptly leave the exam room, usually towards the end of the exam, but without any pre-warning or announcement that the doctor was about to leave.  As it turns out, the physician was actually leaving the exam room to retrieve needed supplies.  After retrieving the needed supplies, the physician would return to the exam room and proceed. When the practice manager received feedback from more than just a couple of patients, relative to the doctor’s “abrupt exam room departure”, the solution involved gaining the cooperation of the medical assistant responsible for stocking the exam room, AND enlisting the support of the physician to not be silent and tolerant when supplies were depleted.   

  1. Execute action-plans – Measure, Monitor, and Modify as needed

When changes are made to practice operations be sure there are adequate measurement tools in place that will allow decision makers the opportunity objectively assess the impact of the change. Another real-world example:  Some time ago I had an opportunity to work with a group of Ob/Gyn physicians in a large multi-specialty group in California.  We re-invented the telephone process to help stream-line the handling of incoming telephone calls.  After implementing the new process we were pleased with the results, unfortunately, the only measurement tool in place was the phone system “black box”, which allowed us to obtain stats like hold time, average answer time, and the like.  What we did not have in place was a measurement and monitoring tool like M3-Patient Experience, which would have allowed us to assess the patient’s perception of our re-engineering the telephone process.  Even without M3, we were all pretty sure the new system and process was a success.  Well, not too many days into using the new system a patient complained, and you guess it, they complained to the department chair.  Based on that one patient’s complaint, the department chair was ready to abandon the new process and system in favor of returning to the old, more familiar telephone process.  It was at that moment in time that we knew we needed some concrete data, feedback from our patients, which would allow us to make a better informed decision to continue with the new process, or revert back to the old process.  We implemented a point-of service mini-survey that provided the patient feedback we needed to convince the department chair, and the other stakeholders, that we had indeed improved the telephone process for the patient.
If your organization already uses M3-Patient Experience and you would like to learn more regarding success stories from around the M3 client family, just let us know – we’d love to share the successes with you. If your practice does not currently use M3-Patient Experience, contact us for a live demonstration of MedicalGPS® real-time patient feedback system, M3-Patient Experience. We’d love to hear from you!

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