Patient Satisfaction – Why Should We Care?

Elizabeth Hall, MD FAAEM


American Academy of Emergency Medicine. 2010;17(6):17 

Abstract and Introduction


After years of schooling and then residency, young physicians eventually enter the work force. We start our careers, start families, build homes and begin new chapters in our lives. We work in emergency departments that are becoming increasingly busy. As we all know, more individuals are requiring the assistance of the emergency department, and some use the emergency department as their primary medical care provider. This increase in demand for services results in more crowded conditions, longer wait times, and physicians practicing hallway medicine. This all leads to greater dissatisfaction in our patients and more stress in our fellow coworkers and staff. With this increased demand for services in an already chaotic atmosphere, who has time to worry or even care about patient satisfaction?

Why we should and do care…

Hospitals need to show the community that they are interested in quality care, and they need to find ways to improve in order to remain competitive. Patients are our customers, and as customers, they have the right to choose where to go for their medical care. Patients are easier to serve if they feel their needs are being met. This results in happier staff and patients. Conversely, when patients' needs are not met, we often hear about it through angry letters, poor satisfaction scores or sometimes publicly in local papers. This is why patient satisfaction is extremely important to your emergency department and hospital. As young physicians, we need to continue striving for high RVUs while maintaining high patient satisfaction scores to help with our emergency department/hospital's reputation, not to mention our own job security.

The ED is already at a disadvantage when it comes to patient satisfaction; we have long wait times, practice hallway medicine, and work in a loud and frequently chaotic atmosphere. Our patients entrust their lives to us. They come to us when they are vulnerable and in pain. They are scared and anxious and then have to deal with long wait times. Patients wait to come back to a room, wait to be seen by a physician, wait for labs to be drawn and imaging studies to be done, wait for results to come back, and wait to be admitted. This all leads to decreased satisfaction with our emergency departments.

Satisfaction trends will have peaks and valleys, but the overall trend should always be on an upswing. Making patients feel like unique individuals and keeping them updated during their long waits may also help to increase patient satisfaction. How we speak and act influences the healing process of our patients. By helping patients feel more comfortable, their anxiety lessens, and they are better able to understand what is going on, their treatment plan, and the importance of following through with their discharge instructions. We may all come to the same diagnosis for a patient, but satisfaction is also based on how the patient was treated while forming that diagnosis.

Communication is key for patient satisfaction. We must acknowledge our patient's feelings and concerns and let them know we understand and are actively paying attention to both their verbal and nonverbal language. It is not only what we say, but also how we say it. Our patients must feel that we care and have their best interest at hand. When dealing with angry and upset patients/families, there are multiple techniques that can be used to help diffuse these situations, all based on how we communicate. I recommend learning some of these techniques if you are not already aware of them.

Please, please, please keep your patient up-to-date during their visit. Let them know what you are planning on doing and why. Let them know what to expect and how long their tests and imaging studies may take. If you are transitioning care to another physician, let your patient know that you have updated the new provider so the patient is aware they are not being lost during this transition. This will help ease yet another anxiety for your patient. Ending a patient encounter on a positive note leaves a lasting impression on our patients. Remember, the more comfortable we make our patients, the more they will trust us and our treatment plan and the more they will follow through with our instructions and the more satisfied they will be.

I urge you to also remember the basics. Knock before entering the room, introduce yourself not only to the patient but also their family/friends, sit down (if possible) to be at eye level and maintain eye contact, lean forward, and keep your attention on the patient. If your patient requests a blanket or drink from you, try to get it yourself instead of relying on someone else. Remember, our behaviors sometimes do speak louder than words.

Patient satisfaction is extremely important to your emergency department and hospital. I strongly advise you to remember the basics and also learn the various communication techniques which will help you in future patient encounters. There are numerous books and courses which teach these important concepts. I ask that we all continue to strive for the best possible patient experience and satisfaction. Why? Because we should care.