Over 30 years ago, before the “patient satisfaction” movement, the doctor-patient relationship looked much different than it does today. During that time, patients found their physicians through “word of mouth” or by searching in the local phone-book. There was not social media, doctor compare websites, or electronic records. Physicians were able to spend time consulting with patients without worrying about the latest government regulations or an enormous amount of administrative paperwork. At that time, the priority was simply treating the patient.
The transition from simply treating the patient, to focusing on their level of satisfaction has been what some consider an evolution toward a more patient-centered care approach. The shift toward consumerism in healthcare has been an industry-wide phenomenon. Patient satisfaction surveys have been developed to ask about issues important to patients and to see how healthcare organizations “were doing.” Entire websites were developed to compare doctors and hospitals. Though some have welcomed the shift to a more consumer-driven market, others were not as quick to jump on board. Many have been critical, but over time the focus on patient satisfaction has proven to not only benefit patients but improve outcomes and increase safety. So who can argue with that?
Over the past decade, another patient-centered approach has taken the industry by storm which has been the patient experience. The Beryl Institute defines patient experience as the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organizations culture, that influence patient perceptions, across the continuum of care.
Patient satisfaction and patient experience, although some may use the terms interchangeably, are not the same. Patient satisfaction refers to the level of contentment a patient has for one or more aspects of their healthcare. Therefore, a patient may be satisfied with their hospital room, but perhaps not the rest of their care. The room is just one piece of their overall patient care experience. Patient satisfaction surveys ask “how did we do” while patient experience surveys go a step further and ask “what happened?”
The patient experience begins in the parking lot and includes every touchpoint between the patient and their caregivers. From scheduling an appointment over the phone to reviewing records online, to post-surgical care. Patient experience encompasses the sum of all of these interactions and many others across the entire continuum of care. Simply put, patient satisfaction is a step along part of the journey, while patient experience is the journey that leads to the final destination.