By David F. Zirkle, PhD
It’s no secret that physicians today face a myriad of challenges and changes – from increased medical malpractice litigation to shrinking reimbursements, from cost containment to quality of care issues and patient safety concerns. While organizations have measured medical staff satisfaction for years, many of these growing concerns have rekindled an interest in reconnecting with physicians to gather input and feedback.
If your organization is about to undertake a physician satisfaction study, there are a number of factors to take into consideration. First and foremost, remember that asking physicians for their opinions creates the expectation that you WILL act on the survey results. Beyond that, most successful efforts begin with selecting the right vendor or partner to conduct the study. Factors to consider include the following…
Asking the Right Questions
Most vendors offer very similar sets of questions to gather information from physicians, e.g. satisfaction with services, nursing, communications, etc. While these traditional workplace satisfaction indicators are important, some vendors are taking a new approach that also considers factors that affect career satisfaction as well as future practice plans. Regardless of which approach you choose, make sure the vendor is willing to customize the questionnaire to address information needs that may be unique to your organization, e.g. scheduling of medical staff events, reaction to recent advertising campaigns, response to new quality initiatives, etc.
Making Meaningful Comparisons
A vendor should be able to compare your survey results to other organizations like yours. If your organization is a mid-sized community hospital, you obviously don’t want to be compared to large, urban academic medical centers. A benchmarking database which allows your results to be compared to similar organizations is crucial to drawing valid and meaningful conclusions from the study. Some of the larger vendors not only benchmark your overall survey results against similar facilities but also provide comparisons at the unit and departmental levels.
Overcoming Poor Response Rates
Past experience has shown repeatedly that physician surveys are plagued by low response rates, which jeopardizes the validity of the information obtained from the study. In order to improve the ease and likelihood of physicians responding, vendors should have demonstrated past success in distributing and collecting survey responses through a variety of methods such as paper, telephone, fax and the Internet.
Dealing with Challenging Environments
Some healthcare environments present unique challenges when it comes to gathering information and feedback from physicians. Large systems with multiple sites, rural settings with limited Internet access or primary care networks dispersed across several locations are just a few of the more challenging situations. Make sure the vendor has successfully conducted studies in settings similar to yours and always ask for references to verify the experiences of past clients.
In the past, most vendors provided written reports summarizing the methodology and results while offering recommendations or solutions based on the survey results. With the advent of the Internet, many vendors now offer online reporting systems which permit the user to “cut and slice” the survey data in real-time, i.e. survey responses are added to the database as they are received. These online tools provide easy access and analysis of the survey data while facilitating the distribution of information and reports throughout the organization.
Most vendors offer “follow up” consulting services to assist with interpreting, prioritizing and recommending solutions based on the survey results. While some of these services may be offered as part of the vendor’s basic package, many are purchased at an additional cost to the organization. Organizations new to the survey process or without sufficient in-house resources may find these services of value. As always, assess your needs first and then purchase these additional services if it makes sense for your organization.
While successful completion of a physician satisfaction survey can seem daunting, the large number of reputable vendors makes the task much easier. Identifying your needs and requirements upfront and then matching these with a vendor will increase the likelihood of a successful partnership.