Another report casts skeptical eye on patient satisfaction surveys

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org. Follow her on Facebook.

Photo" PINKÉ via Flickr

Photo” PINKÉ via Flickr

After we posted in May on issues concerning hospital patient satisfaction surveys, the Hastings Center, a Garrison, N.Y., research institute focusing on bioethics, published its own skeptical report. The full text requires a purchase, but the abstract raises some of the same questions we addressed and brings up a few more.

“The current institutional focus on patient satisfaction and on surveys designed to assess this could eventually compromise the quality of health care while simultaneously raising its cost,” authors Alexandra Junewicz and Stuart Youngner write in Patient-Satisfaction Surveys on a Scale of 0 to 10: Improving Health Care, or Leading It Astray?

Their main worries:

  • Patient “satisfaction” is poorly and inconsistently defined. Convenient parking should’ be given the same weight as providing the correct medical care.
  • The quest for high scores may “actually lead health professionals and institutions to practice bad medicine by honoring patient requests for unnecessary and even harmful treatments.”

But the study does express the hope that a greater emphasis on patient satisfaction potentially could bring needed attention to the “humanistic” aspects of heath care, including “good communication and treating patients with respect.”

Junewicz works in the department of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, and Youngner is chairman of the bioethics department at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. They also wrote an op-ed a few months ago describing a study that found doctors know they are making inappropriate treatment decisions because of these surveys, but their pay is tied to the survey results in some cases.

1 thought on “Another report casts skeptical eye on patient satisfaction surveys

  1. Eileen Beal

    I’ve always considered patient satisfaction surveys to be the WRONG documents to ascertain patient care: how can someone who is not a health care professional/does not have a health care professional’s training and expertise even begin to articulate what kind of care they need.

    However, patient satisfaction surveys are going to continue to be used to “rank” (remember, there are two meanings for that word!) health care provision/health care providers because they get at the low lying fruit: how people FEEL they were/are treated, not how they were ACTUALLY treated.

    Outcomes are the metrics for that…and those kinds of surveys are EXPENSIVE to do. In addition, often times the “respondent” — who may or may not have received exemplary care — does not remember it and/or is no longer around to respond.

    E. Beal, MA, Cle, OH

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