February 19, 2012

Greater Patient Satisfaction At Expense of Better Care?

Much has been made about improving patient satisfaction in the healthcare industry in the belief that greater patient satisfaction equates with better health. To this end, patients are routinely asked to complete a survey based on their impressions on the care they received.

BUT... does greater patient satisfaction actually result in or is the result of better care???

According to a recent study... higher patient satisfaction actually resulted in:

• Greater inpatient hospitalization
• Higher overall healthcare utilization
• Higher prescription usage

The one and only measured benefit of higher patient satisfaction scores was decreased ER use.

Why would there be an increased risk of death with higher patient satisfaction scores?

Well, if a doctor always does what the patient wants, that would tend to lead towards higher patient satisfaction... EVEN if it's the wrong thing to do.

For example... when a patient sees a doctor for a perceived sinus infection, it is not uncommon for a patient to expect to leave with an antibiotic.

Unfortunately, many sinus infections are actually viral URI for which antibiotics is the WRONG course of action.

Inappropriate antibiotics lead to drug-resistant infections which lead to deaths. They can also cause side effects that may require additional healthcare intervention.

However, if a doctor resists a patient's desire for an antibiotic, that would lead to a decrease in patient satisfaction.

Also, the more testing and treatment that is performed, the higher the risk of downstream adverse effects. For example, a patient may desire a CT scan of the chest to rule out lung cancer even though the chest x-ray is normal. Unfortunately, the CT scan picks up a small liver nodule. Needle biopsies are performed which unfortunately resulted in excessive bleeding requiring surgical correction and several days in the hospital. In the end, it was just a benign cyst that never required any treatment.

These examples may oversimplify a very complex issue, but it does suggest that one interpretation of higher patient satisfaction scores are that doctors and hospital systems may choose to do the wrong thing in order to get a better score.

The Cost of Satisfaction: A National Study of Patient Satisfaction, Health Care Utilization, Expenditures, and Mortality. Arch Intern Med. Published online February 13, 2012. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.1662

Why Rating Your Doctor Is Bad For Your Health. Forbes 1/2/13.
Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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