Make sure you hear the feedback

Word of mouth

[ Writer: Dr Paul O D’wyer BDS MSc (Healthcare Mgmt) ]

Patient satisfaction is at the centre of what we do as a profession – and it can be the most challenging aspect of our remit. Patient satisfaction (according to a recent paper by Campbell Tickle, BDJ, 2013) is a tricky parameter. Patients, in the main, have three strong criteria for choosing a dentist: trust, access and cost. In thinking about those three criteria, where does your clinic score best? 

In thinking back through our undergraduate years, how often have we heard the phrase: “If your brother/sister/cousin/parent was attending you, what level of patient care would you provide?” (or some version of same). I certainly recall back in UCC, we were strongly chided if we did not provide the highest clinical standards at all times. In fact, anything less than perfection was almost considered substandard. Such worthy goals extract a heavy toll when trying to meet them in the “real world” – both from a financial and physical view point.

For example, how many of us have ducked down the aisle way of a supermarket to avoid meeting patient X, who you know will hold forth on the wonders of Polygrip for at least 15 minutes? (usually in a loud voice so even the till operators are aware of it).

Or how many of us have sailed past a petrol station, when we spot patient Y’s distinctive car at pump number one – knowing that he will continue to grouse about his molar crown fee – now snugly in place for the past 10 years? 

The financial toll can be seen in the climbing cost of regulatory compliance (without any assistance from government). The physical toll can be seen in number of “bad backs” I hear of (and see!) in the profession – usually due to years of contortion taking out that troublesome upper wisdom tooth or tricky/stubborn lower premolar. (A timely reminder to read up on correct posture!) 

All of that said though, it is a great question to ask yourself in practice: Is my clinic the clinic my brother/sister/cousin/parent would choose to visit? How can we be sure? 

The summer time provides a good opportunity to test this theory. Almost every practice in the country over the summer months, will have at least a handful of “summer casuals” (as my old boss in Nottingham used to call them). These are the patients who will attend once (maybe twice) with a specific issue – usually an abscess or lost crown. Aside from treatment, they provide a great testing subject for the question above: Is this a practice I would choose to visit? 

Patient satisfaction surveys are an important aspect of patient care – which are all too often forgotten, neglected or not even considered. How do we know we are meeting our goals if we have no way of measuring them?

Have you organised a patient satisfaction survey – either paper-based in the practice or online via email? The out-of-town patient may well be grateful to be seen, but also will be a most reliable sounding board for constructive criticism, as they will probably never be seen in the practice again.

Satisfaction surveys come in all shapes and sizes. Many of us are familiar with Survey Monkey – an easy tool (and free!) which we can send to patients via email (in line with GDPR guidelines, of course). If however, you are a “low-tech” practitioner, a very simple RAG system, Red/Amber/Green can suffice. 

It’s a simple matter of having some simple A4 sheets, with a satisfaction rating, lined up. Keep the categories simple, e.g. Room for Improvement/Satisfactory/Excellent. The invited comments at the end can often be a treasure trove of ways to improve. A box sitting in a prominent place in the waiting room should encourage uptake. Instruct front desk reception and nursing staff to encourage patients to partake. Admittedly, for the days where we are running behind, the inevitable grumble of waiting will occur – but that too can be instructive in scheduling/zoning of the book. 

In thinking about your practice as a business, it is a strong indicator for patients to see a willingness to bring on board their views. It underlines communication, strengthens trust and indicates development.

Einstein is famously accredited with a definition of insanity which is: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results!” 

While general practice can sometimes feel that way, in striving to improve our clinic’s performance, have we really listened to and heeded the words and comments of our patients?

High patient standards are the aim of us all.  Reaching them takes effort, time and resources. So why not make sure you are doing just that, by ensuring you are hearing the feedback of those who use your clinical service.

Published: 2 July, 2019 at 07:10
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