How doctors can get better patient satisfaction scores

A doctor examining a patient's eyes
Physician coaching focuses on behaviors to improve patient satisfaction scores.

Efforts to improve patient satisfaction scores have prompted some leading healthcare organizations to establish physician coaching programs.

Coaches work with doctors who have low scores on patient experience surveys. The leaders of coaching programs at Henry Ford Health System, Hawaii Pacific Health, Scripps Health and the Mayo Clinic Health Center recently shared the lessons they’ve learned in an interview with Namita Seth Mohta, M.D., on NEJM Catalyst.

“We have to change the doctors first,” was what everyone, including staff-level nurses, told leaders at Scripps Health when the organization wanted to improve its Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey scores, says Ghazala Sharieff, M.D., corporate vice president and chief experience officer.

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Coaching is most successful for doctors who reach out for help and want to improve their scores, Sharieff says. In those cases, scores went up by at least 55 percentile points during the coaching period.

RELATED: Communicate empathetically with patients for better satisfaction scores, researchers say

To improve scores, coaches encourage physicians to focus on behaviors that make a difference to patients. Among their suggestions:

Don’t use medical jargon. Explain tests, procedures and home care in a way the patient understands. 

Follow simple steps. Coaches at Scripps advises its doctor to “knock, sit, ask.” Knock on the door before you enter an exam room to protect the patient’s privacy. Sit with the patient, which studies show adds 15% to scores because you don’t appear rushed. Then ask the patient about his or her greatest concerns.

RELATED: 3 things physicians should never say to a patient

Create a work environment that’s patient-friendly. Be sure exam rooms are set up to encourage conversation and don't allow the computer to become a distraction.

Watch your body language. Orient your body toward the patient. Make eye contact. Don’t be distracted by note-taking and other tasks during the patient encounter, says Dale Glenn, M.D., physician lead of the patient experience team at Hawaii Pacific Health.

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