Embracing Transparency: Valuing Patients As Informed Consumers
| Feb 4, 2013 9:00 AM
When we make a significant purchase or shop for an important gift online, most of us search for some information about the product or service and pay close attention to customer reviews. Those opinions are not a perfect guide, but we do value them. And, above all, we respect those vendors who are transparent and who openly share genuine feedback. But is the same consideration appropriate in the health care environment?
Do patient satisfaction surveys matter?
Transparency in health care has yet to match the pace of the rest of the consumer market for several reasons. One argument against a reliance on patient satisfaction is based on a concept called “information asymmetry,” claiming that because patients do not know as much about their health and biology as their health care providers, they cannot be considered as informed consumers and therefore cannot judge the quality of the care they receive.
A provocative article in Forbes magazine even went so far as to say that sharing patient satisfaction data with other patients can drive unnecessary utilization—i.e. providers may feel pressure to over-treat in an effort to satisfy their patients more.
While it is important that we are ever vigilant about this potential and unintended consequence, I believe that sharing information and being transparent about our results is a vital step forward. The research bears this out. A systematic review of 55 publications in the British Medical Journal showed that patient experience is positively associated with clinical effectiveness and patient safety, and supports the case for the inclusion of patient experience as one of the central pillars of quality in healthcare.
Since Dr. Lorris Betz launched the Exceptional Patient Experience initiative in 2008, we at the University of Utah have learned to take our patient satisfaction survey results very seriously. Our staff and clinicians know their results. We set and meet targets for improvement across most of the organization. And as a result, for academic medical centers, we have some of the highest patient satisfaction scores in the nation.
We are now entering into a new phase of transparency in patient satisfaction. We have begun to post on-line, together with all of our physician profiles, our patient Press-Ganey responses. We are effectively sharing all the data we have. To our knowledge, we are the first academic medical center to do so.
In my view, by sharing our Press Ganey data, we are in fact reducing “information asymmetry” in health care, and that helps us all do better. In health care, transparency is vital to our transformation. Patient satisfaction scores are just the beginning.
Author: Vivian S. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A.
About the Author: Dr. Vivian S. Lee is the Senior Vice President for Health Sciences at the University of Utah, Dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine, and CEO of University of Utah Health Care. Read her full bio herecomments powered by Disqus