There’s More to Assessing Patient Outcomes than Quality of Care

It’s an interesting question: Assuming you provide quality care, you probably have satisfied patients, but is their satisfaction a valid factor in assessing their clinical outcome and the quality of that care?

Or as the title of this article in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery provocatively puts it: “The Importance of Patient Satisfaction: A Blessing, a Curse, or Simply Irrelevant?

The article raises concerns about using patient satisfaction ratings as a measure of doctor performance, a trend that has accelerated under programs that tie reimbursement to outcomes, such as Medicare and the ACA. The authors cite scenarios in which a hospital might add luxury amenities, or a doctor might provide an alternative, but less appropriate, diagnosis at a patient’s request. Such efforts may boost satisfaction scores, but don’t necessarily lead to improved outcomes.

But even if there isn’t a causal link between patient satisfaction and better outcomes, a growing body of research suggests that there is a correlation between the two. This study analyzed outcomes of six common surgeries in almost 3,000 U.S. hospitals and found that those with higher patient satisfaction scores had shorter lengths of stay, lower readmission rates, and lower mortality rates. Viewed through that lens, patient satisfaction can certainly be seen as a reasonable proxy for the quality of care.

Ultimately, whether patient satisfaction is a blessing or a curse will likely remain a matter of opinion, but it’s not irrelevant especially when it comes to cosmetic surgery.

For patients, satisfaction is the name of the game. Unlike urgent or chronic care, most aesthetic patients choose a treatment and typically at their own expense. They’re also confronting concerns about their skin, face, or body that go beyond the physical to encompass emotional and social considerations. As such, a patient’s satisfaction can be viewed as a subjective perception, but it can’t be dismissed.

There’s no denying the importance of patient satisfaction for practices. It’s a key for retaining patients — especially important in these days of minimally invasive, multisession procedures — and for generating good word of mouth via social channels. Unlike their older counterparts, today’s patients, especially younger ones, are more likely to show off their aesthetic efforts than attempt to hide them. As thousands of reviews on RealSelf will attest, patients who like their outcomes love to share their results with others.

So, who’s the better judge of quality care? The doctor who can objectively ascertain the symmetry of a breast augmentation or the progress of a rhinoplasty recovery, or the patient who likes what she sees in the mirror and embraces her newfound confidence? The answer, of course, is that both have value, and everybody wins when they work in tandem.

The bottom line is that medical outcomes and patient satisfaction are not synonymous, but rather, two ways of looking at the same experience. Or, as a recent article in the Harvard Business Review puts it,

Correlation does not imply causation. Rather, a high-quality outcome is the result of several factors and actions that, when properly aligned, result in patient satisfaction. In this case, satisfaction is meaningful not because it causes quality but because it may indicate that quality has been delivered.

Join our May 24 webinar with Dr. Edward Dickerson on “Making the Most of Moments.” During this talk, Dr. Dickerson will discuss how he tests new marketing tools and connects with his patients.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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