Serious discussions about patient experience often gravitate to how “satisfaction” enhances the overarching goal of delivering exceptional patient care.

On one level, a patient “feels good” about the encounter when the clinic and/or the practitioner has empathetically met their needs and their expectations.

On other levels, patient-practitioner communications channels are open, and a sense of “satisfaction” can increase patient compliance and thus enhance outcomes, inspire referrals, reduce potential malpractice risk, and other dynamics.

If you are still resisting jumping on the ‘service with a smile’ bandwagon, it might just run you over. Today, there are online booking for appointments, guaranteed no waiting times, friendly, happy staff and specialised boutique clinics, just down the road, trying to meet these new demands.

Practitioners, whose education did not include patient satisfaction courses (most of you), want to learn about “what works?” Fortunately, practitioners and healthcare clinics can draw on the experience and advice of professional colleagues.

Expectations, empathy and communications…

An oversimplified summary of these [patient satisfaction] efforts, is that our patients want rapid/efficient care from a practitioner who is empathetic and communicates well.

With regard to the nearly universal problem of wait times, I recommend shaping patient expectations with frequent updates, with an estimated timeline at the conclusion of each interaction or process step.

By setting the estimated time at a mark you can meet or beat 99 percent of the time, you are more likely to end up with a pleasantly surprised patient who has waited less time than expected. From a patient’s perspective, the only thing worse than waiting is waiting without receiving any explanation. Accordingly, provide the patient with a brief apology and expectation if the time estimate is missed.

Time spent with the practitioner is also an element of the patient’s perception of practitioner empathy. Admittedly, empathy is a subjective consideration, but I suggest some seemingly simple steps to enhance patient satisfaction. These include “sitting down with the patient increases the perceived practitioner bedside time.

Empathy can have a connection with both time and communications. For example, when a practitioner’s body language presents as “engaged,” “collaborative” and “active listening,” and when the patient feels that their concerns are being heard and not rushed, both communications and satisfaction can improve.

Achieving a higher level of satisfaction with patients is a challenging and on-going task, but relatively small things can make a big difference. What’s more, the benefits for both practitioner and patient include a stronger sense of trust in the practitioner, a higher level of compliance and a better health outcome.