Eagerly awaiting the results of a patient satisfaction survey

The institution that employs me is very bullish on customer satisfaction.  Having come from a fourteen year stint in private practice before I came back into the university fold six years ago, the little things that make a practice run smoothly come naturally to me.

Patients are typically seen within a week of the consultation request — same day if they are in an emergency situation.  My front office staff actually answer their phones and my nurses and I return phone calls from patients, even if we have to do it after regular business hours.  The physicist and dosimetrist make sure that the radiation plans are optimal and that each plan undergoes intense scrutiny and quality assurance before the patient ever lies down on the table. The therapy staff work hard to make sure that the patients are treated with dignity and on time, at an hour which is convenient to their schedules.

Despite my natural inclination towards dawdling and chatting, I try to keep to my schedule.  At the end of a patient’s treatment course, I personally ask him or her to fill out our patient satisfaction survey because the university bases my staff’s bonuses on the results. So far, I have never been disappointed.

Recently we treated a patient who had some significant physical challenges.  He was extremely overweight, with severe arthritis in his hips and knees.  In order to get to the “vault” to be treated, he had to be wheeled in a wheelchair, which required the coordination of several people since our doors lock for security.  Each day, a therapist would come up the elevator to get the patient, and our receptionist would hold open the door so that it would not close and bang into the wheelchair.  Time changes were made in his schedule to accommodate his other numerous appointments.  His wife partook of our Halloween potluck party and shared tidbits about her day with our front office staff.  His handicapped parking space was never occupied, and he never waited for treatment.  To all outward appearances he and his wife were treated like members of our family.

At the end of his treatment, the results of their patient satisfaction survey were eagerly awaited.  We knew it was going to be spectacular.  And it was.  On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best, each question was answered successively with a 5.  Was it easy to get a convenient appointment?  5.   Were you welcomed in a friendly manner? 5. Was the center comfortable and clean?  5.  Did the physician clearly explain the treatment objectives to you?  Again, 5, of course.  And so it went.  Until we came to the “Comments” section at the end.

The comments were written with perfect penmanship and read as follows:  “We thought your pink wall might be better if it was more of a rust color, to match the chairs and vases.  The color that it is just didn’t seem to go with the room.”

I’ll probably run out and pick up the paint chips at Home Depot this weekend.  We’ll get right on it!

Miranda Fielding is a radiation oncologist who blogs at The Crab Diaries.

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  • DoubtfulGuest

    Yes, you and your team should be very proud, Dr. Fielding. Any chance your patient has a warped sense of humor and actually meant it as a compliment (that they couldn’t think of any other suggestions)? I know some people who don’t feel they’ve completed a survey unless they include some pearl of constructive criticism. :/ Why does CorpMed encourage us to care about trivial stuff? And why does it seem like some folks are more suggestible to this BS when they’re feeling sick?

    Finally, I’m not sure it’s a good idea for chairs and vases to blend in with the walls. Could be a safety issue if taken too far…

    • Miranda Fielding

      Actually, I do think the patient’s wife filled it out, and she was serious. I wasn’t responsible for choosing the color scheme, but when I went out to the waiting room and really looked, she was right! Not much to do about it, with budget cuts and all.

  • buzzkillerjsmith

    Rads onc is butter. If you don’t get a 5 something is very, very wrong.

    • Miranda Fielding

      Actually, the biggest complaint at most of the cancer centers I’ve worked at is lack of parking. I do think that the field itself selects for people who are genuinely nice (speaking of my staff here) because it’s hard to see cancer patients day in and day out and maintain a cheerful countenance.

      • buzzkillerjsmith

        Lack of parking. The biggest complaint at most family medicine centers is lack of doctors and nurses.

        Is it too late for me to go back and do rads onc? I got a good physics grade on the MCAT.

        • Miranda Fielding

          Never too late! A lot of us are “retreads” from other specialties, me included–first specialty internal medicine. Join us!

        • Anne-Marie

          I can think of higher priorities than the parking.

          OTOH, the oncology patient population is often older and/or more debilitated and long hikes from the parking lot can be daunting.

          I was a rads patient when I was in my 30s, and by the second week my kiester was dragging and I had almost stopped eating because the rads to the neck and mediastinum made it super painful to swallow. Convenient parking was the least of my worries but it’s often the little things that help make the overall situation more bearable. Just sayin.

  • Rob Burnside

    A potter I know said, “I’ve had my best work thrown out of the worst shows and my worst work win prizes in the best shows.” And so it goes for all of us when placed in the fickle light of personal opinion. It’s a shame anyone’s take-home has to depend on this highly subjective rating scheme–and it’s almost always that, no matter how clever the format may be.

  • Miranda Fielding

    Thank you but I think “team” is the most important word here. It takes a lot of people working together to deliver radiation safely and efficiently. My team is great.

  • azmd

    Don’t think of it as criticism…it’s free decorating advice!

  • DoubtfulGuest

    First, check to make sure the TP has that nice triangle fold at the end?

  • Deceased MD

    Truly bizarre…

  • Anne-Marie

    It sounds like they truly appreciated the care, but when given the opportunity to make a “comment,” they… well, made a random comment, a la many of the social media conversations these days that are often full of non sequiturs. You just have to scratch your head and say “Huh?” and move on.

    I would have liked you for my radiation oncologist. You and your staff sound like gems.

    • Miranda Fielding

      Thanks Anne Marie! I would have liked having you as a patient, and I am very glad you survived your experience.

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