Survey says: Patients want connection, comfort

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 - Doctor and older patient

While providers assume patients want shorter wait times and comfortable surroundings, patients were actually more concerned with feelings of support from their care team and developing an inter-personal relationship with providers, according to a recent survey published online Dec. 20 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Based out of the department of diagnostic radiology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the survey sought to explore the factors that made for positive patient experiences using the center’s collaboration with the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration.

According to authors Joseph Rodgers Steele, MD, MMM, of MD Anderson, and colleagues, cancer patients’ needs can be different than those of other patients, as cancer patients deal with anxiety, fear, and emotional stress on top of the logistical concerns of appointment wait times, office comfort and provider interaction.

“Helping patients cope with negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety, depression, and anger, requires hospital staff to be attentive and empathetic,” Steele and colleagues wrote. “Hospitality is considered an important component of patient satisfaction.”

The authors define hospitality as “a warm and generous relationship between individuals, typically a guest and a host” and that the need for psychological comfort is heightened with serious diseases like cancer.

In interviewing physicians, the authors found that providers thought the following attributes would make for an excellent patient experience:

  • Convenient scheduling
  • Patient comfort
  • Prompt responses to customer queries
  • Creating a patient-oriented culture
  • Providing clear instructions
  • Prompt appointment check-ins

Nurses and technologists believed that avoiding service failures in the entire appointment process, from check in to billing, was most important for a positive patient experience. They also believed that treating patients like a person and “not a number” while they moved through their appointment was important.

For the patient perspective, the researchers looked at what defined exceptional service when visiting the radiology department at MD Anderson Cancer Center. To do this, they underwent rigorous survey development before sending it out to 30,000 randomly selected patients who had received diagnostic imaging studies between 2011 and 2012. A second, shorter survey was sent two months later to patients who did not open the initial survey.

A total of 4,170 patients completed the survey—69.5 percent. The overall response rate for the second survey was 10.5 percent.

The top three results from the patient responses were concerned with individualized care:

  • Having physicians acknowledge the concerns of the patient
  • Being treated with respect
  • Being treated like a person and not a number

“These findings were in stark contrast to our findings regarding the perceptions of providers and staff, who were more concerned about decreasing waiting times, creating a more luxurious physical space, and improving convenience,” the authors wrote.

Steele and colleagues concluded that patient satisfaction is less complicated than perceived and that their findings found that patients look for active listening, respect and empathy over comfort and conveniences.