“Are you happy with your experience?”
How your physical therapy patients answer this question is important. It could make the difference between a patient completing their treatment or ghosting after two appointments. Or whether they refer a friend to your practice. It could even affect how quickly they recover.
But despite how important patient satisfaction is to patient outcomes and overall experiences, not enough practices know the why behind an “Absolutely!” vs. an “Absolutely not.”
In a recent Therapy Matters podcast episode, we sat down with Eric Herman, co-owner and CCO of Buffalo Rehab Group, to talk about how data can help improve patient satisfaction and outcomes. And building patient-centered, data-informed teams is Eric Herman’s job. Literally. So you’ll want to stick around for his top tips!
Real-World Strategies to Improve Patient Satisfaction
In order to improve patient satisfaction and experiences at your practice, you need to look at your real-world data.
That’s the tactic employed by Eric Herman, PT, owner, CCO, and experienced coach to his growing team of therapists at Buffalo Rehab. “My role as a Chief Clinical Officer,” he explains, “is to ensure that our clinicians have the skills needed to provide our patients with great outcomes and great experiences when they are with our clinics.”
Example: The Patient Experience at Buffalo Rehab Group
Buffalo Rehab Group offers one-on-one expert physical or occupational therapy treatment at 14 locations across Western New York and via telehealth. Plus, their website is studded with five-star patient reviews. Here are a few:
I’ve gone to physical therapy several times for my back, knees and shoulder over the years, but Buffalo Rehab Group is the only one where I am pleased to write a review. I have found the staff to be both warm and professional, but most importantly, I have seen immediate progress with my mobility.
I have worked with [Buffalo Rehab] several times. During my first appointment, Emily, a Therapist I had worked with before, met me at the check-in desk. She had seen my name and asked if she could work with me again. That really helped me to get a fast start. … My situation has shown a great deal of improvement.
Glowing testimonials don’t come from nowhere. So, how do they do it? Here’s Herman’s advice:
1. Identify Patterns in Your Data—Then Adapt
“[BI] allowed us to look at how different points relate to each other: how our scheduling impacts our outcomes, how our outcomes impacts our finances, and how our scheduling impacts our finances,” Herman said. “We start[ed] to connect these dots and really learn what helps for successful outcomes and [keeps] our business successful.”
For owners, leaders, clinical quality specialists, and others who are responsible for improving the performance of therapy teams, it’s not enough to go by your gut, or even by the book. Better outcomes rely on actionable insights gleaned from real-world data.
Last year, for example, the Buffalo Rehab team identified one simple change to a patient’s first appointment could improve patient satisfaction and recovery.
Which leads us to his next piece of advice…
2. Give Patients a Roadmap to Better Health Outcomes
To create a positive patient experience, try to get the full plan of care scheduled on day one.
“We noticed that the best outcomes happened with the patients that were scheduled out for their entire plan of care from the beginning,” Herman says. To reach this conclusion, they compared FOTO data among 80% of their patients, and found that the majority of patients were exceeding outcome thresholds if they were seen for at least eight weeks.
But proactive scheduling alone isn’t enough to improve the patient experience and quality of care. To implement this data-driven change, Buffalo Rehab also made efforts to improve communication between therapist and patients.
“We teach our clinicians how to have the conversation with the patient about the process and the expectations of physical therapy,” Herman says. When your patient knows how long their treatment journey will be, and what outcomes they’re working toward, it empowers them to commit to the full process.
3. Get Therapists Involved in Collecting Patient Feedback
It’s the norm for healthcare providers and systems collect and use patient satisfaction scores to assess the patient experience.
At Buffalo Rehab, they use net promoter scores (NPS) to track patient experience and satisfaction ratings at their clinics. They automatically send surveys at six days after the evaluation, and then again at 30 days after evaluation.
But they don’t stop there.
“We also allow our clinicians to send an NPS questionnaire throughout the process,” Herman says. “As they’re hearing from their patient that they’re valuing the journey, they can send an NPS questionnaire to capture those positive success stories.”
This means that your therapists are responding to the patient experience of care, in real time, and fostering patient loyalty by reinforcing their positive experiences.
Easier said than done? Maybe not! Herman also provides some insight into building a data-driven culture within your care teams.
Getting Clinicians to Buy In to the Process
It’ll take some coaching in order for your team to understand the value of data collection, Herman says.
As a clinician himself, he was initially reluctant to focus on measurement, when he could already see the success of his patients in their outcomes and their word-of-mouth referrals.
But all it took was a mindset shift. “It depends on how you perceive the information you’re gaining,” he says. “If you’re using it as a way to improve yourself … It’s not as scary.” Herman coaches his team to understand that data is a tool that can help create more successful outcomes.
It doesn’t hurt that they also provide a performance bonus based on patients’ NPS and outcome survey utilization—rather than the actual results.
“Our clinicians aren’t so worried about the results, which then allows us—after we get enough data—to give them truthful feedback,” he says. “We’ve been able to continuously modify what we’re coaching our team and what we’re measuring by being open to learning.”
How Leaders Can Do More With Patient Health Data
In practices like Buffalo Rehab, business intelligence software can identify data patterns to create more efficient workflows, better patient outcomes, increased patient retention, higher employee satisfaction, and other key drivers of patient-centered care.
Not bad, right?
To Herman, business intelligence technology an invaluable tool for healthcare leaders, because evaluation is an ongoing process. “Our office leaders, regional coordinators, and I get this data on a daily basis. It’s automatic. There’s no guessing.”
And ultimately, a data-driven approach can do more than improve patient satisfaction.
“The highest outcomes occur where [patients are] really getting back to life,” says Herman. “And that’s what we’re trying to do: help people get back to life.”
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the biggest factors in patient satisfaction?
The biggest factors in patient satisfaction include expectations of care, effective communication and responsiveness from healthcare providers, accessibility and convenience of services, and the overall environment and comfort of the healthcare facility.
What causes low satisfaction among patients?
Low or declining patient satisfaction is often caused by factors such as poor communication with providers, insufficient treatment information, cleanliness of facilities, and other perceived inadequacy in the care provided. Factors may be a result of strain on hospitals, health systems, and private practices, including staffing shortages and burnout among providers.
Is patient satisfaction related to health outcomes?
Yes, patient satisfaction is related to clinical effectiveness outcomes and care quality. Satisfied patients are more likely to adhere to treatment plans, maintain follow-up appointments, and engage actively in their healthcare, which can lead to better health outcomes.
How do practices measure patient satisfaction?
Patient satisfaction data measures subjective, self-reported aspects of the patient experience like perceived quality of care, responsiveness of staff, communication about treatment, and more in a standardized format. Common tools for patient satisfaction measurement include:
- Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey (HCAPHS scores)
- Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) surveys
- Net promoter scores (NPS) surveys
- Other specialized patient satisfaction surveys
What is an improvement plan for patient satisfaction?
An improvement plan for patient satisfaction might include coaching or training staff in customer service, communication skills, shared decision-making, and empathy. Other improvements include reducing front office wait times, implementing a more efficient or self-directed appointment scheduling system, fostering a safe and welcoming environment, and actively seeking and responding to patient feedback.