Patient satisfaction in the age of social media

The patient satisfaction industry needs to be disrupted.

This old, legacy industry, with it’s outdated and overpriced technology needs a serious makeover. I work for a large physician group that uses a well-established patient satisfaction vendor. And I have had no end of frustration trying to figure out how the data I get back can be used to actually improve my practice and the overall patient experience.

Don’t get me wrong; I think surveying our patients is incredibly important and worthwhile. But why is it done in such an arcane and non-engaging way. Seriously, have you every gotten one of these things in the mail? It is 2012 and we have paper surveys sent weeks after a visit each one costing more than a couple gallons of gas.

No wonder the response rates are so dismally low. I just don’t see how this can be justified any longer. With the rise of the Internet and social media, we now have at our disposal the most amazing communication tools ever created; yet we are still thinking of patient satisfaction like it is 1980. In my mind, the whole concept of patient satisfaction is about having a conversation with our patients to determine what they think we are doing well and what they think we need to improve upon. It is about having that conversation in a meaningful and transparent way that makes our patients believe we are actually listening to them.

It isn’t about some number that needs to be benchmarked and then branded on us like a scarlet letter. So why aren’t we having this conversation with the tools of communication that we use in every other aspect of our life and work? Why don’t we integrate email, cloud computing, social media, mobile technology and modern data analytics into these surveys? And why don’t we link them to our EMR’s and our practice web pages and truly integrate them into our practices? These things are all possible with technology that is already almost a decade old!

I believe we can do better. I believe we can make patient satisfaction something truly useful and engaging for patients and physicians. We need to get the administrators and the third party legacy vendors out of the equation and get back to what this should have been about all along: A good, old-fashioned conversation with our patients.

Steven Bates is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and co-founder of DocsVox.

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