Imagine that you’ve prescribed a medication for a patient. The patient goes home, takes the medication, and if it doesn’t work, phones the practice and ask for something else to address their illness.
“But that patient almost never phones the doctor to say, ‘Hey doc, that medication worked beautifully,’” says Paul LeVine, vice president and chief analytics officer at InfoMedics. “You either wait until there’s a follow-up office visit, or sometimes you never get the information. Patients have a lot of good experiences with treatments that are never communicated back to their primary practitioners, and that’s a real loss.”
Enter patient satisfaction surveys.
Working in a vacuum
LeVine believes it’s in a physician’s best interest to complete the communication circuit with patients. There are many benefits, he explains, but perhaps none more important than where new products or treatment protocols are being provided. A physician may have great experience with one particular treatment that is being given to patients, but if the information is not communicated back, the physician is working in a vacuum.
“It’s tremendously important to get the word out that the treatment has been beneficial,” LeVine explains. “Because then there are opportunities where the doctor can look at his or her panel to say here’s another person that this could be good for. And I think that’s what is lost otherwise.”
LeVine believes that the receptivity of a physician to treatment and patient satisfaction programs is directly related to how much effort physicians need to employ in order to get those surveys done. The key, he says, is understanding that there’s a specific way to communicate feedback results from patients to their doctors.
InfoMedics collects information on a pre- and post-basis about treatments. That allows them to show a change that the patient has actually experienced with treatments. And when that information is put together for a doctor’s use, it’s presented in a one-page graphical format that resembles a lab report.
“Doctors know how to read lab reports,” LeVine says. “They look for values that are out of bounds, and they can scan it very quickly and put the information in the patient’s charts. There’s a tremendously low level of antipathy from doctors to information such as this, because we’re giving them something that’s in a digestible format.”
As for patients, LeVine says it’s important to meet the patient where they are. That means that if young patients are using their mobile phones in order to complete surveys, you need an application that enables them to do so. In comparison, an elderly patient may be more comfortable speaking with a live person on the phone.
“You have to be conscious of the demographics you’re dealing with, and make sure your survey instruments match those demographics,” he says.
But that’s only half the story. The other half really relates to the relationship between the patient and the physician. LeVine says that one of the most important reasons why patients participate in one of these surveys is because their doctors asked them to.
“If doctors are effective in conveying the importance of the information that they’ll get back, that becomes very essential to a patient,” LeVine says. “To some degree, I think it is really based on a desire to please … that’s an aspect of a patient’s response. And people really do understand that their physician wants the best for them.”
Bottom line impact
How does the information gleaned from patient surveys translate into a bottom line benefit for the medical practice? LeVine recalls a situation where a new formulation for migraine medication — a rapidly dissolving wafer — was introduced. The manufacturer assumed that both medication modes — the existing tablet and the new wafer — would be equally appealing to patients. Surveys, however, proved otherwise.
“There was a disproportionate number of patients who really preferred the rapidly dissolving wafer,” LeVine says. “If you think about migraines, some people experience nausea and chance of vomiting. These wafers allowed people to use the medication without taking water. From a physician’s perspective, you can target the right patient profiles for the medication. That helps significantly in treatment decisions.”
LeVine believes the future for patient satisfaction and treatment surveys is huge. He says that over the last several years he’s seen them evolve from a nice-to-have, value-added element, to a core feature of whatever treatment is being provided. And he believes that patients now expect it.
“I think the web has a lot to do with the popularity of these instruments, because the notion of doing polls on various websites has created a gigantic explosion of data, perception and opinion,” LeVine says. “I think it is absolutely the wave of the future, and I see it only getting stronger.”
Ed Rabinowitz recently wrote One More Dance, a book about one family's courageous battle against time and glioblastoma brain cancer. Read more about the book here.