Communicate empathetically with patients for better satisfaction scores, researchers say

Researchers seeking the "secret" to patient satisfaction may have unearthed it: Effective, empathetic communication with patients makes them much more satisfied with their care experience.

Researchers at Dell Medical School in Austin, Texas, delved into patient experience surveys and found that patients who rated their surgeons highly for empathy were likely to have an overall positive view of them, according to an article from Medscape Medical News.

But becoming a good communicator isn’t always easy. David Ring, M.D., associate dean for comprehensive care at Dell and the lead researcher, said it took years of research and work with a communications coach before he could effectively communicate with patients.

“I practiced and worked on it as much as I worked on surgery or medicine,” Ring told the publication.

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He said clinicians must think carefully about the message they want to give patients and consider how much they will really understand about the ins-and-outs of care. Be optimistic and hopeful whenever possible, and leave room for open-ended questions. Listen to the patient’s concerns, too, Ring said, as their health goals may be different than the ones you have set.

RELATED: The clinical ROI of patient experience efforts

Patient experience surveys play a role in payer reimbursements, but in addition to the potential monetary benefits, research suggests that higher patient satisfaction is also linked to clinical quality. A recent study found that hospitals with high patient experience scores performed better in clinical measures like infection and readmission rates.

Recent studies have also linked patient satisfaction and patient safety, too.