Do hospitals care too much about patient satisfaction scores?

Patient satisfaction is a key agenda item for hospitals in the post-Affordable Care Act landscape, but the industry may place too much importance on the issue, argues The Atlantic.

Although it 's helpful for providers to gauge patient satisfaction, the increased emphasis on the largely subjective Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey distracts from the care quality that should be their primary focus, writes Alexandra Robbins. For example, one HCAHPS question asks patients how often they received help as soon as they wanted it after they pressed the call button, but without specifying whether the help was medically necessary, this does not accurately assess care quality. Patient comments that elaborate on their answers to this question have complained of issues such as roommate noise, which has nothing to do with clinician performance.

Indeed, multiple studies have suggested patient satisfaction scores have little correlation to care quality, mortality and likelihood of hospitalization. "Patients can be very satisfied and dead an hour later," one Missouri clinical instructor told Robbins. "Sometimes hearing bad news is not going to result in a satisfied patient, yet the patient could be a well-informed, prepared patient."

The Department of Health and Human Services bases 30 percent of Medicare reimbursement on HCAHPS scores, and hospitals have thus scrambled to add hotel-like amenities and place increased emphasis on customer service skills in hiring practices. This strengthens the notion of patients as customers, which in turn suggests that the customer is always right, even though the course of action that most satisfies patients and the one that is best for their health may be entirely different.

Despite these issues, other research indicates hospitals' patient satisfaction scores have shown little variation over the years, FierceHealthcare previously reported. "For the most part, the organizations that are doing really wonderfully now were doing well five years ago," said Dierdre Mylod of Press Ganey, which conducts many of the patient satisfaction surveys.

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