Patient Satisfaction Surveys: A Key to Word-of-Mouth Referrals



Author: Gyl A. Kasewurm, Au.D.

While hearing aid technology, fitting science, and professional education have all improved dramatically in the last 10 years, Sergei Kochkin’s MarkeTrak studies indicate little progress in the percentage of patients who are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their hearing aids (Kochkin, 2010). Additional Kochkin data suggests that more than 4 million people in this country alone who need hearing aids will not purchase them because of a negative report from someone they know (Kochkin, 2007). The potential financial impact of these statistics on the industry as a whole is staggering. The possible impact of such negative word of mouth advertising could be fatal to a practice considering that dissatisfied patients share their tales of woe with many more people than satisfied patients do. In addition, market research indicates that satisfied patients pay less attention to the competition, are less price sensitive and cost less to serve than dissatisfied patients. Therefore, one can conclude that focusing on patient satisfaction is good for patients and good for business.

You may have heard the expression “never assume” and this adage definitely applies to patient satisfaction. It has been my experience that you don’t know how satisfied a patient is until you actually ask them. In my practice, we have made it a policy to send a satisfaction survey to patients three to six months after purchasing new hearing aids. A blank copy of this survey is shown in Figure 1. Audiology Practices encourages you to copy and use this patient satisfaction survey in your own practice. Satisfaction surveys can identify ways of improving patient care as well as show patients that you care and are looking for ways to improve their hearing and your service.

While we have used many different surveys over the years, we have found the most success by using an abbreviated version of Kochkin’s MarkeTrak survey. This also affords the opportunity to benchmark your practice against proven standards in the industry. The Satisfaction with Amplification in Daily Life (SADL) is another scale that can be used to assess patient satisfaction. However, surveying patients is only helpful if you actually pay attention to patient’s answers and respond to them. You may be surprised at how many patients have their hearing aids in a drawer or the number who would NOT recommend hearing aids and/or your organization to others.

When complaints do occur, it is important to deal with them immediately and resolve them completely. It doesn’t really matter whether you feel you are at fault. The only thing that matters is that the patient is satisfied. The best way to turn an unhappy patient into a raving fan is to solve their complaint quickly and completely. It’s been my experience that in most cases, the resolution requires much less than I was willing to do.

Of course, hearing aid performance alone does not guarantee that your patients will be happy. While we must know conclusively that patients are deriving adequate benefit from their hearing aids by conducting outcome measures, we also must insure that every patient is treated in a warm, courteous and professional manner during every step of the patient journey. Asking patient’s opinions via a survey can be the key to unlocking a new level of satisfaction for your patients. After all, you can’t manage unless you first measure. Take the time to measure patient satisfaction in your own clinic with this survey. You might be surprised what great things you find out about your practice.    

References
Kochkin, S. MarkeTrak VIII: Customer satisfaction with hearing aids is slowly increasing. Hearing Journal. 2010;63(1):11-19.

Kochkin S. MarkeTrak VII: Obstacles to adult non-user adoption of hearing aids. Hearing Journal. 2007;60(4):27-43.

Dr. Gyl Kasewurm is the owner of Professional Hearing Services in St. Joseph, MI. She can be reached at gyl@prohear.net.
More on Patient Surveys from the AP Editor
A well constructed survey is a great way to gather actionable information about your practice. Low scores (Very Dissatisfied, Dissatisfied or Neutral on Dr. Kasewurm’s survey) would be a red flag for a very unhappy patient that would likely trigger a call from you to resolve the problem. Research has shown that a “neutral” rating is just as likely to be upset or unhappy as someone giving you a rating of “extremely dissatisfied”. Fortunately, relative to many other businesses we don’t see that many patients, therefore, it is feasible to place a phone call to patients giving you a low score, if they choose to provide their name. Even if patients do not provide a name, this information is very valuable. By collecting and analyzing data on a representative sample of patients (that is, about 25 to 30 surveys collected every 90 days), you can identify some service trends in your practice. Armed with survey data, you can make better decisions about how to improve service delivery in your practice.

On the flip side, it’s also valuable to gather and analyze positive (i.e., Satisfied or Very Satisfied) findings from a survey. Using Dr. Kasewurm’s survey, we can be fairly certain that someone checking the “very satisfied” box on the majority of questions is a promoter of your practice. It may be worth your time to talk to the promoters of your practice to find out what they love about it, so you can replicate their office experience with more patients.

In this age of evidence-based practice, audiologists must embrace quality assurance programs that place patients in the center of decision making processes. Implementing a patient satisfaction survey is a necessity. Of course, there are many details that need to be addressed, such as how you plan to get the survey in the hands of your patients, along what point in the patient journey you plan to survey them and how often you plan to analyze the data you collect. I’ve been involved with patient satisfaction programs for several years and would be happy to address specific questions any of our AP readers may have.

Regardless of the details, you simply need to start. No matter how you look at it, routinely surveying your patients between one and six months post fitting is a great way to better understand how your practice is perceived by it’s most precious resource – patients. It all starts by getting a survey in their hands. You can simply make copies of Dr. Kasewurm’s survey, found on pages 36-38 of this issue of AP and ask your patients to complete it.