Engaging employees to improve patient satisfaction

W. Edwards Deming is recognized as one of the driving forces that led the Japanese in the 1950’s to become a world-class manufacturing nation.  The Japanese through the implementation of his principals became leaders in the manufacture of automobiles and electronics.  One of his cardinal principles was that a company must delight its customers.  It is not enough for a company that wishes to excel to meet the needs and expectations of its customers on a timely basis; it must exceed customer expectations.

Deming is not alone in recognizing that focusing on the customer is a key to becoming successful, both financially and in recognition as a high quality provider or supplier.  Recently the Medical Group Management Association stated on their website that the “better performing medical practices” focused on the following four processes:

  • Profitability and cost management
  • Productivity, capacity and staffing
  • Accounts receivables and collections
  • Patient satisfaction

How can a business or healthcare provider find out what its clients want?  How can they meet their clients’ needs?  One way is through the engagement of its employees.  Recently on the Inc.com website, the owner of Get Satisfaction, a tech company that helps other companies drive their success by bringing out the best ideas in the company, stated that by engaging the employees of a business customer satisfaction is driven up.  Does this make sense?  Of course!  In most businesses it is the employees who are face to face with clients most of the time.  This is true even at ambulatory healthcare sites.  Although the most important engagement of the patient is with the physician most of the time, the patient also encounters nurses, receptionists and other staff.  These encounters are important.  Employees through their client engagement can find out the needs of the clients are and meet these needs through superior service.

Let me demonstrate this with a short story.  My son in his first management job was manager of a gasoline station.  One of the first things that he did was to hold a team meeting of his staff.  He set forth the need to improve customer satisfaction and wanted suggestions as how to do so.  He and his staff discussed the ideas that they came up with and decided to implement the best ones.  Not only did he engage the employees to come up with ideas on how to improve the quality of service that was provided, he gave an immediate raise to his key full time staff who had seniority.  He wanted to keep them from moving to another job.  The results were fantastic.  His inside sales went up over 50%.  His theft due to employees became almost nonexistent.  His regular customers started showing up more often.  One or two even started coming to the station at opening to help make the first pots of coffee and to chat with the employees.

What are some of the key points one can see in this story?

1.  The success was driven by leadership that was willing to be open to communication with employees and that was willing to reward employees for their efforts.  This is another of Deming’s key points to success.

2.  The staff met regularly with my son to discuss various concerns about customer service.  Many of the ideas were implemented and the results were generally effective.  The employees came up with their ideas from engagement with the customers.

3.   My son measured the success with a variety of metrics, including improved sales and losses due to employee theft.

Employee engagement is one key way to delight the client or customer and to gauge customer satisfaction.  There are other avenues.  The Medical Group Management Association in the article listing the four key elements of successful medical practices stated that almost 60% of successful practices used surveys to gauge patient satisfaction.  Besides surveys other avenues are focus groups of customers or patients and online research into best practices.

These approaches to customer satisfaction—employee engagement, surveys, focus groups and research—will only take a business or healthcare provider so far.  To achieve superior results some risk must be taken.  New services such as the use of social media to improve customer interaction will take some investment of time from staff and may or may not pay off initially.  Such approaches will take a bit of experimentation.  Yet, undertaking such may take the business to the next level of achievement as a superior provider.

Which path will you take as a business or healthcare provider?  Are you willing to transform into an organization that engages its staff and relinquishes top-down decision making?  Will focus on the customer or patient be your primary goal or will you be more interested in short-term profits?  Those who focus on long-term results will use a variety of approaches to gauge client and patient satisfaction and will work daily to improve it.

Donald Tex Bryant is a consultant who helps healthcare providers meet their challenges. He can be reached at Bryant’s Healthcare Solutions.

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  • http://www.threehourmidlifecrisis.com/ Dike Drummond MD

    Great stuff “Tex” and I would say the engagement of the employees you are looking for is an outlet for their empathy. How can we connect better with our patients so THEY feel better … is a good question for leadership to ask. The key is then … they have to listen and implement (just like your Son did)

    And sometimes the answers are right in front of your face. Example: a recent AHRQ survey showed an improvement in patient satisfaction rates from 60-99% with one simple maneuver. All they did was have the nurses round at regular intervals to check on patients proactively … instead of waiting for that same patient to push the call button. Revolutionary common sense.

    Deming would be astounded at the “low hanging fruit” for improving patient satisfaction in modern healthcare.

    My two cents,

    Dike Drummond MD

    • Anonymous

      “Revolutionary Common Sense”- I like it. Sometimes you wonder…. :) This same thing was suggested at the hospital I once worked at. It was implemented, but additional staffing had to be budgeted for. In most states work load could use a little consideration and regulation (of all the things they regulate) not just based on number of patients, but patient care needs. 


  • http://www.bryantsstatisticalconsulting.com Donald Tex Bryant

    Thanks for the insight and support, Dr. Drummond.  It takes a lot of conscious effort to become a listening ear to the patient’s needs.

  • http://twitter.com/TristaKoch Empowered Practice

    Great info! As I speak with doctors and staff, a common theme seems to be the difference between patient satisfaction and giving the patients what they want. The two are not the same. Some doctors seem to be worried about sacrificing good/proper patient care for patient satisfaction. The big thing that I point out is that patients may be coming to you with something in mind, but if you take the time and explain and educate them on why that may not be the best thing for them rather than just telling them no, it actually works in your favor when it comes to patient satisfaction. Patients then feel cared for and respected, and that the doctor has the best intentions when it comes to their care. In addition, because the patient is now educated on the topic, they are more likely to be compliant, resulting in better patient results, and once again, higher patient satisfaction. 


  • Stefani Daniels

    Before we can hope that hospital staff are trained to improve patient satisfication, how about training them about accountability.  There are still horror stories every day where nurses and other clinical team members are fearful about questioning physicians about their medical interventions resulting in often tragic incidents…the most recent I read was the case of the co-managed trauma patient.  Orthos assumed hospitalists were treating ….. hospitalists assumed orthos were treatming….. and the nurses, stuck in the middle kept their mouths shut for fear or reprisal or angry reactions. Patient was discharged w/o anti-coag and patient died of pulmonary infarct.

  • Anonymous

    Do you think that cultural competency perceives and treats health as a social good, and therefore, is independent of the patients economic status?  Do you think that a partnership between the company’s health coach and the employee’s is immune from financial conflict of interest?

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