How the “Halo Effect” Can Help Ophthalmologists Improve Patient Satisfaction

How the “Halo Effect” Can Help Ophthalmologists Improve Patient Satisfaction

Patient satisfaction for healthcare services has hit a nine-year low according to the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index. The index measures healthcare on a scale of zero to 100 through data gathered from interviews with approximately 70,000 healthcare customers.

Although patient surveys can ultimately help you improve your practice, they can also cause some practices to try to “game” the assessment process and focus too narrowly on improving scores for specific questions. Essentially, your overall patient experience will suffer if all you do is “teach to the test” (to borrow a phrase from education).

It’s better to improve your customer experience by thinking more strategically on how the survey questions fit within your overall strategy as a private practice or academic medical center. Essentially, you want to create a “halo effect,” where patients and their families have an overall positive impression of you, which then influences and spreads to those service areas (and survey questions) where you might not have been as strong.

We all can think of assessment questions where we consistently want our patients to consistently answer “always” (i.e. “During your visit, how often were the facilities kept clean?”). But “Always kept clean” is an almost impossible standard; even five star hotels can’t maintain those levels of service; if you send in housekeeping three times a day, there are plenty of opportunities to create trash in-between.

However, there is still a possibility for patients to answer “always” on the survey: When patients have an overall extraordinary experience, they will subconsciously be inspired to give you a higher score on all the questions. Patients who have a generally poor experience will score you much more literally on every question — and literal responses aren’t going to serve anyone very well.

Ophthalmology practices, just like other specialty providers, need to constantly and consistently listen to the needs and wishes of their patients and their patients’ families. Here are some ways ophthalmologists can improve not only their patient satisfaction, but also their survey scores.

    • Look for inspiration everywhere. Certainly your patients will compare you to their experiences in other service-related situations. Healthcare can be a very insular industry, and often you can’t see your patients’ biggest pain points because you’re submerged in it every day. Hotels, restaurants and other service-intensive industries can be good sources of inspiration for your own practice.
    • Consider a Humm systems type of feedback process. First used in the restaurant business, these point-of-service feedback devices have been reengineered for the medical market. They create a powerful, real-time tool to help you and your staff better address negative experiences before the patient has the chance to report the service lapse on a post-experience survey question (or perhaps even worse, their social media accounts!).
    • Actually experience your facility as your patients would. Many service and retail businesses hire “mystery shoppers” as a way to measure the customer experience. Consider creating a similar program with your practice, but instead of hiring someone to evaluate your customer service, do it yourself. Park in the patient parking lot. Walk through the front door without being able to see well. Give a tour to someone who hasn’t been to your practice before, and see if they can find weaknesses (i.e. how easy is it to find the bathroom?). You’ll likely find several opportunities to create a more positive experience for your patients. Without walking through the patient experience yourself, with an eye towards improvement, you’ll miss small — but important — opportunities to improve your practice.
    • Apologies are powerful. No one is perfect, so your staff needs to know that being defensive or apathetic about lapses in customer service can create a powerful negative impression. Teach everyone how to apologize. Your patients should feel like your staff is taking their side when it comes to less than satisfactory experiences. Have them apologize quickly and with empathy, using role-playing as a training tool.
    • Train every staff member on how to appropriately handle a patient or family member complaints. No patient should ever hear “I can’t help you with that, I’m the wrong person” — your staff should always answer with “Let me find you someone right now who can help you.”
    • Encourage your staff to consider their purpose, not just their job. Every employee has both day-to-day job responsibilities and a strategic reason why their job exists. Taking out the garbage is a job responsibility; creating a comfortable patient experience is a purpose. Staff who know the difference will strive to create a comfortable experience for your patients, even at the expense of sometimes the garbage being emptied a little late. Afterwards, you can celebrate that staff member for holding their purpose over their job responsibilities, instead of having them worry about being reprimanded for a full trash can at the end of the day.
    • Create a blame-free culture. Ritz-Carlton founder César Ritz often said, “If a mistake happens once it may be the fault of the employee. If it happens twice, it is most likely the fault of the system.” Want to create a Ritz-Carlton like experience at your practice? Stop the blame game and start fixing the system that created the mistake in the first place.
    • Apathy and aloofness can be subtle. Whether you realize it or not, healthcare professionals often avoid eye contact with patients and their families. Nurses and staff who are in a hurry often scurry self-importantly through the halls, running down patients who move too slowly. Also, nurses may unknowingly ignore patients who haven’t been checked in yet, creating an experience that poorly represents your practice. Doctors’ conversations about their recent expensive vacations carry throughout the hallways. Competing radios in the same area, vending machines that don’t work and other small experiences can all lead to a negative “halo effect” that you don’t realize can affect your patient satisfaction scores.

If you can improve your patients’ overall satisfaction, you can expect that they will give you the benefit of the doubt when it comes to questions that otherwise may prompt negative feedback. Make the “halo effect” work for you!

Want to learn more? Contact us, we’re happy to help.