September 3, 2004

ED implements ‘real time’ patient satisfaction survey

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Harry R. Jacobson, M.D.

ED implements ‘real time’ patient satisfaction survey

Patients who receive treatment in Vanderbilt’s Emergency Department now have a new tool at their disposal, allowing them to instantly rate their care, giving managers a report card on how they were treated by physicians, nurses and other staff.

The real-time patient satisfaction survey was developed by Brent Lemonds, R.N., Emergency Department administrator, as a means to pinpoint problem areas and highlight areas that patients praise.

The survey is Web-based and available on the dedicated computers. More than 400 patients have filled out the 11-question survey, answering questions that range from pain management to courtesy and respect shown by physicians and nurses.

“The Emergency Department should be a customer service area,” explained Cory Slovis, M.D., professor and chair of Emergency Medicine. “We exist to serve those patients.”

There are more than 100 physicians who work in the ED, and more than 200 nurses and other staff. More than 40 percent of the hospital’s admissions are made through the ED. Officials say a patient’s first impression of Vanderbilt is often made in the time spent in the ED.

Slovis said the data collected from the survey identify who provided care to the patient, and allows managers to identify system problems, or physicians and staff who were not meeting the patient’s needs. It also allows for easy identification of those who exceeded their patients’ expectations.

“It is an excellent way for us to mentor the doctors and nurses,” he explained.

Donna Mason, R.N., manager of the ED, said the feedback from patients provides her with invaluable data, allowing her to almost instantly address operational issues.

“Real time customer satisfaction rating gives the manager the flexibility to know what issues need to be addressed right now,” she said. “I can review the chart, talk with the staff, and be aware of issues related to operations.”

Mason said staff was pleased with the new system, because previous customer surveys were often more than three months old, and it was impossible for staff to recall what their work environment was like at that time.

“The staff get their scores in real time,” she explained. “They can use the real time information to know what their work environment was like two to three days ago instead of two to three months ago.” 

The surveys also leave room for comments, many of which have been positive, while some others suggest room for improvement.

“Thanks to everyone for the great care and concern,” wrote one patient.

Another patient asked, “Why did it take three-plus hours for someone to help me?”

Patient confidentiality is maintained and only scores and comments are shared with physicians and nurses. Lemonds said this is important to ensure patients will be honest and direct about their treatment.

Lemonds said many of the physicians and nurses are getting perfect scores. More than half the staff consistently receive “fives” on the surveys. Patients rank the 11 questions on a scale of one to five; one is poor, and five is excellent.

“The responses help point to individual providers and how their behavior affects our patients,” Lemonds said. “We want to treat everyone with excellent service.”

Though the results of the surveys are not currently tied into job performance evaluations, Lemonds said the results will be discussed at performance time and are used to help employees see how a patient often perceives them.

“If we have a physician or nurse who is consistently receiving low scores from a number of different patients, we can help pinpoint the issue,” he said. “Many times the care providers do not know how they come across to the patients.”

He said employees are often very surprised to hear the results.

“They are very motivated to do what it takes to turn any negative experience into a positive one,” he said.

Patients are not required to fill out the online survey. If they do not physically feel well, a family member can answer the questions. At present only patients who are treated on odd-numbered days are asked if they would like to fill out the survey to avoid adversely affecting ongoing research protocols on unsolicited complaints.

“We appreciate the honest feedback that our patients provide,” Lemonds said. “This is a very powerful tool that will and can work on their behalf. The mail-out surveys will continue since they are statistically valid and can provide comparisons over time.”