Your satisfaction is important to us

I’ve recently had a series of appointments with various health care providers, so I’ve been asked to complete some post-visit satisfaction questionnaires. My experiences have been less than satisfying, and reminded me of my experiences a couple of years ago after a lengthy diagnostic episode followed by surgery. Here’s what I wrote at the time, and I’m sorry to say that at least for me, nothing has changed in three years. I wonder if others are having more positive experiences, or if my experience is typical. Read on…

I’ve had a lot of “health care encounters” over the past few months. And while it’s been stressful, I’ve been lucky because my health problems have not been life-threatening – mostly just the “woman-meets-midlife” variety. There was the lengthy build up to surgery, the surgery itself, and now I’m recovering. It feels great to be (almost) done with this particular chapter in my life.
Not surprisingly, I’ve seen a lot of doctors and I’ve had lots of diagnostic tests over the past few months. After many of these encounters I’ve been asked to complete satisfaction questionnaires. “Your satisfaction is important to us”, they all begin. Sorry, but that’s a little like the now-infamous, “Your call is important to us”. You know the joke: After waiting on hold forever, you don’t really believe that your call is important to anyone. Similarly, after seeing the questionnaires I’ve seen, it’s hard to believe that my satisfaction is important to anyone. It’s clearly not important enough to measure it very well.
Before you assume that I was looking at the questionnaires with a critic’s eye, I swear I wasn’t over the top. True, I can be a little nit-picky when it comes to questionnaires (or so claim my kids, who have seen me dissect one too many restaurant surveys over the years). But even my kids were shocked at the health care questionnaires I showed them. I was asked to rate my satisfaction with a frequency response scale (oops!). I was asked to rate whether my physician spent enough time with me in the hospital. Well, I saw about ten physicians while I was there, so which one are we talking about? I was asked to rate “the nursing staff” on a number of attributes. I don’t know – I had one great nurse and one who was so-so. How do I rate them both? Take an average?
The sad truth is that I had a lot to say about my experiences – good and bad. I very much wanted a way to thank those doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers who took the time to be friendly, compassionate, and thorough. And I also had a lot of constructive feedback for the encounters I had that were less than optimal. I guess it’s nice that the questionnaire asked if the food I was served was at the appropriate temperature, but honestly, that doesn’t top my list of what’s important. The only way I could have shared accurate and useful feedback would have been decidedly old-fashioned – with a letter.
A sage market researcher I once knew always told me to design any study with this thought: “Begin with the end in mind”. I think that’s basically what’s missing in this flurry of questionnaires. If health care administrators want to use the data they collect to “continuously improve”, the data must be meaningful and accurate. And the data have to really, really matter to whoever is in charge. Given the questionnaires I’ve seen, it’s a stretch to believe that the data – or my satisfaction – really matters at all.

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