Unlike other stats, which are largely department- or role-specific, patient satisfaction is the rare figure that applies across the whole of a facility, with providers, business stakeholders, and marketing personnel all relying on it for different reasons.
Because of this, and because healthcare is nothing if not a metrics-obsessed field, it’s fair to say most facilities and systems would go to great lengths to positively influence their satisfaction scores. And while bringing on a temporary staff supplement via a locum tenens service doesn’t seem like it has a lot to do with satisfaction at a glance, the model exists to ease many of the pain points that create low scores in the first place.
Want Better Scores? Make Shorter Waits
Wait times are a critically important component of satisfaction, particularly in outpatient settings. As one well-known study notes, long waits can “negatively impact” overall satisfaction, willingness to recommend, and the patient’s ability to process information and instructions, thus creating a continuum that results in even lower satisfaction scores.
This basic information can put short-staffed facilities — and those anticipating short-staffing, such as a neighborhood clinic dealing with multiple physician vacations — in a bind. Whether you split the missing provider’s load up amongst existing staff or book scheduling out longer than you’d like, you end up with unhappy patients just waiting for the chance to take a survey.
Considering the problems wait times can solve, a visit from a locum provides an attractive alternative. Patients are seen faster, personnel receive less workload (which can also bolster satisfaction), and the facility gets the kind of scores that make everyone happier. It may seem like an obvious benefit, but it’s also one of the most important perks a short-staffed facility can take advantage of.
Patient Load, Burnout, and Satisfaction
More, the study mentioned in the previous section only covers one way a lack of adequate staff can negatively influence satisfaction. A short-staffed location is one that overworks its remaining personnel, and there is a well-known link between overwork and burnout. The link between burnout and satisfaction scores hasn’t yet seen the same level of study, but early research on the topic indicates similar connections exist. Throw in the fact that low satisfaction scores themselves may contribute to burnout and you have another vicious cycle: one in which overworked staff provides lower-quality care, receives low satisfaction scores, and burns out even more. Yikes!
The same benefits that make locums good for facilities stricken by long wait times also work on the care-quality side, giving clinicians more realistic workloads while they wait on vacationing employees to return or new employees to be hired. Instead of contributing to a negative spiral, then, facilities can affect a series of positive changes by bringing on a locum — changes that increase satisfaction scores and improve life for patients and the providers who care for them.
Quality Time — and Quality Metrics
Like most matters related to facility performance, individual factors affecting patient satisfaction are but one part of a large, complex ecosystem of considerations. The changes you make to one practice or policy may have profound effects on another. While eliminating burnout factors may reduce incidence of negative satisfaction scores on one end, promoting qualities that result in better care can create an uptick in good scores.
Take the time providers spend with patients (or the perception thereof) as one example of this phenomenon. Researchers have continually drawn lines between visit length and patient satisfaction; for instance, 80 percent of positive-score interactions in one paper came from visits where the patient felt they had adequate time to discuss matters with their physician.
When a facility is truly in the weeds regarding patient load and satisfaction, it may be hard to identify and enhance features that simultaneously push back bad scores and create good ones. In this instance, having an extra professional on-staff during vacations, unexpected departures, or temporary spikes in volume can quite literally be the difference between excellent rankings and performance-based scrutiny from superiors. If an acceptably high percentage of satisfied patients has eluded your facility’s grasp, you owe it to your staff, your facility, and patients themselves to reach out and give locum tenens a try.