Patient Satisfaction Surveys and Malpractice Risk Management

Few independent physicians currently survey their patients about their healthcare experience, but that’s soon to change. And those healthcare professionals obstinate to adopting a patient satisfaction survey will find it harder and harder to be fully compensated for their practice of medicine.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) already require hospitals to report patient survey data to receive full payment, and some measurement of patient satisfaction is expected to be part of the CMS physician reimbursement formula by the year 2015. The patient satisfaction initiative is an essential part of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for the United States’ healthcare reimbursement model to move from a fee-for-service archetype to a pay-for-performance ideal.

At first glance, the requirement might look like nothing more than another layer of pointless bureaucracy. But a properly implemented patient satisfaction survey gives you power. It quantifies how your patients view you and your staff as well as gives you the necessary data to combat the frequency and severity of medical malpractice claims.

Patient dissatisfaction is an important identifier of malpractice risk. A recent study indicated that only one in eight patients who suffer an adverse medical outcome due to actual negligence file a malpractice claim. This suggests that the decision to file a claim involves more than perceived negligence. More often than not, the decision to file a malpractice claim involves an aggravating circumstance that prompts a patient to seek the counsel of an attorney. These circumstances include poor communication, a lack of disclosure, anger or the real need for information. These factors indicate the lack of a developed relationship between doctor and patient as well as the importance of patient satisfaction. These are also the same factors that often make a potential case more attractive to an attorney, and certainly impact a jury, when considering an award of damages during trial.

The correlation between a patient’s perceived quality of physician-patient communication and his or her likelihood of filing a medical malpractice claim has been well documented in academic studies. One such study found a significant relationship between physician ratings and patient complaints, with a six percent increase in complaints associated with a one-point decrease in physician satisfaction ratings. Further, there was a five percent increase in risk management issues associated with a one-point decrease in physician satisfaction scores. The results showed that compared with physicians with top satisfaction survey ratings, physicians in the middle third had malpractice lawsuit rates that were 26 percent higher; those in the bottom third had rates that were 110-percent higher.

A patient satisfaction survey shares insight as to how your patients perceive you and your staff. It also gives you the ability to create a benchmark for tracking your team’s improvements in different areas of patient interaction. Because more often than not malpractice litigation stems from more than just a clinical event, by surveying where your practice falls short in the patient experience, and improving on those shortfalls, providers will realize opportunities to enhance the level of service provided and potentially avert malpractice claims.

Physicians should view the patient satisfaction survey as an opportunity for better patient outcomes. Satisfied patients are more likely to follow their doctor’s direction and less likely to file a malpractice claim. The converse is true for a dissatisfied patient.


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