5 minutes may be all you need to improve inpatient satisfaction

Female doctor talking to male patient in hospital bed
A psychosocial intervention called BATHE (an acronym for Background, Affect, Trouble, Handling and Empathy), is designed for doctors to encourage patients to talk about anything that is bothering them, and then doctors respond with empathy and encouragement. (Getty/monkeybusinessimages)

A simple, five-minute intervention can make all the difference in patient satisfaction rates at hospitals, according to a new study.

Physicians who spent a few minutes each day with inpatients and talked about their overall well-being as well as their medical symptoms noticed an increase in patient satisfaction scores, according to researchers from University of Virginia (UVA) Health System. Indeed, patients who had the brief conversation each day with a resident were more likely to rate their medical care as excellent and to express a high degree of satisfaction with their hospital stay.

The findings were published in the October issue of Family Medicine.

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The technique, a psychosocial intervention called BATHE (an acronym for Background, Affect, Trouble, Handling and Empathy), is designed for doctors to encourage patients to talk about anything that is bothering them, and then doctors respond with empathy and encouragement. Although it is often used in outpatient clinics across the country, until now the intervention has not been tested with inpatients.

Researchers, led by Claudia Allen, Ph.D., an associate professor and clinical psychologist at the UVA, randomly chose 25 inpatients to either receive BATHE or standard care, which focuses on treatment plans and how patients are recovering from their illness or injury.

Patients who received BATHE gave their doctors an average score of 4.77. Patients who received standard care gave their physicians an average score of 4.0. There was no significant difference in the average score of BATHE and non-BATHE patients when they were asked to rate how much time they spent with their doctors, according to Allen.

The boost in patient satisfaction was based on BATHE patients’ perceptions that their physician “showed a genuine interest in me as a person,” Allen said in the study announcement.

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“The beauty of the intervention is that it doesn’t ask doctors to do anything radically different or add something totally extra,” Allen said. “It just tweaks what they’re already doing to make it significantly more effective.”

Researchers also said in their conclusion that the intervention doesn’t need to be lengthy and can be adjusted to a busy inpatient physician’s schedule.