Patient satisfaction surveys and accidental pickles

It’s tempting to blame it all on Henry Ford.  I was standing alone at the empty counter, waiting to order in a fast food joint at 9 p.m.  Off to my left, three or four carloads of customers had been served before anyone noticed me and came over to ask what I wanted.  After all, Henry gave us the mass-produced (and therefor affordable) automobile.  I wondered if the day would come when the counter closed completely, and every customer would be obliged to order drive-thru, as it sometimes is now in the wee hours. We get more accidental pickles in drive-thru, and I do hate pickles with a passion.  No problem with cucumbers, however.

Then I thought about health care, and how our ubiquitous drive-thru mindset has had a major influence.  Yes, service is for the most part faster and more efficient, but what about those pickles?  Medical errors, nosocomial infections, re-admissions, preventable deaths and general dissatisfaction among providers and providees alike.  All quality control issues, perhaps. Or, have we come to expect the impossible — speedy service and complete satisfaction with each encounter?

To the same degree that fast food restaurants have been shaped by the customers they serve — better menus, calorie charts, free newspapers, etc. — health care has been modified by patients.  The most successful medical establishments have begun to pay close attention to patient wants, needs, and desires. When we walk through the front door of Anytown Hospital and find a string quartet playing Vivaldi we may at last realize that things have gone a tad too far, but for now we patients should enjoy the music.  It’s kind of nice to be the center of attention again, as we once were way back when house calls were routine and our family physician actually knew we disliked (or liked) pickles.

I’m not denigrating satisfaction surveys; they have some merit, if properly designed and implemented.  I’m bemoaning the observation that, as health care has gone corporate, it has steadily lost the essential awareness of all but the proverbial bottom line and that has now made satisfaction surveys necessary.  Everyone’s at drive-thru, no one’s at the counter. Accidental pickles abound.

What’s my point, beyond pickles?  I can’t speak for other patients or prospective patients, but if I could I would sum it up in one word: moderation.  Let the pendulum swing back toward the golden mean. Give us more general practitioners, a little more time with our doctors and let us get to know one another again.

And yes, Vivaldi’s fine with me almost anytime, anywhere.  In the lobby once or twice a year is a wonderful treat.  Much more than that and I’m soon jonesing for the Stones. If health care can do all this and hold the pickles, I’m fine.  I can get satisfaction!

Rob Burnside is a retired firefighter and paramedic.

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