When you dine at a restaurant and ask to have your meal prepared a certain way, you can bet that, in the majority of cases, the cooks will accommodate your request, even if it’s not on the menu. The notion that the “customer is always right” has carried over from the service industry to the medical industry, and has plenty of doctors concerned.
While ordering your steak well done won’t do much more harm than offending the chef, asking your doctor to take extreme measures to treat you, even if he knows that the treatment isn’t necessarily in your best interest, can do a lot of harm. Despite this, patient satisfaction is seen as a legitimate way to measure how good a doctor or medical practice is. The conflict lies between what a patient thinks he or she wants and what the doctor believes to be the best option for him or her.
What the Surveys Say
Patient satisfaction surveys are becoming more and more prominent as they play a larger role in healthcare than in years past. This is partly due to the Affordable Care Act. Under the ACA, hospitals that don’t have good satisfaction scores won’t be fully reimbursed by Medicare for relevant care, starting in 2017. The goal of the surveys is to make patient care better.
An article in the Daily Beast noted that the demand for higher ratings is having the opposite effect. The quest for patient satisfaction has led to more lax prescription policies among doctors, as well as for more tests, many of which are unnecessary. A common complaint among doctors is that the surveys might say that patients are unhappy with the care they received, but don’t examine the reasons why.
What’s Really Behind the Surveys
It’s not only hospitals that stand to gain financially from patient satisfaction surveys. Forbes.com notes that the companies that produce the surveys have increased in value considerably over the past few decades.
Originally, Press Ganey, which is one of the more well-known survey providers, worked with just a few hospitals. But, once the practice of surveying patients became a requirement, the company grew. Forbes.com reports that it was acquired for $100 million in 2003. In 2007, another private equity firm bought it, this time for more than $670 million. In 2011, the company had sales of $217 million and revenue of $82 million.
The Risks of Satisfaction
While listening to the experience of past patients is important for people considering elective procedures, such as a facelift or other plastic surgery, using patient satisfaction surveys as a way to evaluate a hospital, and eventually, other medical practices, has several risks.
For one thing, a 2012 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that patients who reported high levels of satisfaction were less likely to use the ER. These patients, however, were more likely to be admitted to a hospital, have higher prescription drug costs, and have higher overall health costs. Most interestingly, the patients with the highest levels of satisfaction were also the most likely to die.
The increased costs and increased risk of death are thought to be due to a satisfied patient’s greater likelihood of asking for (and receiving) unnecessary treatments or medications, known as overtreatment. Overtreatment not only endangers the individual patients. When doctors over-prescribe antibiotics, it puts the wider world at risk, as in increases the likelihood of drug-resistant bacteria developing.
What Patients Can Do
One of the best things patients can do is trust their doctors, who have spent years in training and who often have years, if not decades, of experience. A good doctor will have the patient’s best interests in mind and will recommend the treatment that will work most efficiently or that will provide the type of results a patient is seeking. In most cases, the doctor will work with the patient to develop a plan of care that will be cost-effective, as well as medically effective.
A facial plastic surgeon based in West Palm Beach, Florida, Dr. Michael Schwartz has more than two decades of experience in the field. During a consultation, he works with you to determine which surgical option or minimally invasive procedure is best suited to you. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Schwartz, call his practice at 561-228-5888 today.