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Improving Patient Satisfaction Surveys

If you ask identical patient satisfaction questions of a 30 year-old woman and an 85 year-old man, you aren't segmenting, you aren't learning and you're probably not satisfying anyone either.

OK, let's set up a hypothetical here. Imagine a 30 year-old woman, an executive at a major Internet company, fracturing a leg falling off the mountain she was climbing. Further, imagine an 85 year-old farmer fracturing a leg falling off the tractor he was driving. Let's say their injuries are severe enough to require surgery at your hospital and so it transpires that both patients are admitted to adjacent rooms on your ortho/surgery floor.

Two patients more different than alike save for the admitting diagnosis. With me so far?

Yet perhaps during their stay - and certainly after - as occupants of the same nursing unit, they'll be asked nearly-identical survey questions designed to elicit their satisfaction as patients and customers. Questions about "responsiveness" and "communication" and "coordination" and "pain control" and the facilities and the food. Some questions are JCAHO-inspired, others are CMS-mandated and a few are industry standards, oldies-but-goodies.

Am I alone in seeing a problem? Think about it.

Think about how these two patients live their lives, where and how they travel, where and what they eat, what they buy, how they interact with the world, their experiences when they're not lying horizontal in your bed. Think about how they choose health care providers and how they rely (or not) on health care's so-called experts. Think about the possible lifestyle-driven differences in their answers to a question about "call button responsiveness."

In other words, think about the EXPECTATIONS they arrived with. Do you really think these two hypothetical patients would show up at your facility with identical expectations for much of anything beyond getting well?

So how useful are their surveyed responses? You ask the same questions, average the responses and learn...what?

I'm sure the survey vendors among us will say their software's drill-down capabilities offer additional insights and so, perhaps, you look below the surface and learn that younger patients are less satisfied on certain indicators than those in older demographics.

But now you're stuck. WHY are younger patients less satisfied? You can only speculate and your systems and surveys won't easily tell you since, traditionally, they're designed to collect what's relatively easy to collect and/or directly related to patient care, payment or some regulatory purpose. Actionable information on customer attitudes, expectations and behaviors - critical to none of those processes - is nowhere to be found.

So if you're looking for meaningful strategic separation, you must start by understanding what makes your customers tick BEFORE they occupy room #2021. Satisfaction is, very simply, your actions and processes seen through a customer's lens. Learn as much as you can about the world seen through that lens. Learn how those lenses cluster and segment. Ponder the resulting differences and similarities.

Most of all, stop assuming that you'll get there with averaged answers to universal questions
. If you can't (or won't), do me a favor and remove "market segmentation" from your list of core competencies.


smm said…
So are you saying that we find out what our customers are thinking by simply talking to them?! Astonishing!


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