The Path to Better Outcomes Starts Long Before Patient Intake

Funny thing about patient satisfaction: You can influence it long before you pick up a scalpel or syringe. As a recent Gallup poll reveals, the education patients receive before surgery can lead to better outcomes, fewer problems and higher satisfaction.

That’s not just good news for patients, either, as more satisfied patients may also translate into fewer revision surgeries (and/or malpractice suits) and better reviews.

Using patients who had had a medical device implanted within the last 12 months as partipants, survey respondents were asked to rate their levels of agreement with the following statements using a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree):

  • I knew what to expect after surgery
  • I was prepared for my experience post-surgery
  • I followed post-surgery instructions, such as rehabilitation or medication

The analysis showed that each of these aspects of pre-surgery education substantially influenced post-surgery outcomes. Patients who strongly agreed with just one of these statements had significantly higher satisfaction and significantly lower problem incidence compared with patients who did not strongly agree (giving a rating of 1 to 4).

For example, when patients strongly agreed that “I knew what to expect after surgery,” 72% were extremely satisfied with their results and only 8% reported problems following their surgery. When patients did not strongly agree with this item, just 39% were extremely satisfied and 27% reported problems.

Furthermore, when patients strongly agreed with more than one of the above statements, they experienced even greater outcome improvements. As the graph below shows, when patients strongly agreed with just one education aspect, 46% were extremely satisfied with their results and 27% reported a problem following surgery. When they strongly agreed with two items, 65% were extremely satisfied and 13% reported a problem. And when patients strongly agreed with all three items, 71% were extremely satisfied and just 8% reported a problem following surgery.

Gallup, patient satisfaction, pre-surgery education

The problem is that most patients don’t agree with all three statements: According to Gallup, only 37% of respondents strongly agreed with all three aspects of patient education, while 17% strongly agreed with none of them. And while doctors are limited in what they can do about ensuring patients follow their post-surgical instructions, the report offers several suggestions on helping patients understand what to expect after surgery and being adequately prepared. Among them:

Emphasize proactive communication: When patients have well-informed expectations, they tend to be less anxious before procedures and less surprised after them. Procedure-specific FAQ pages on one’s practice website can provide general information while emails, handouts and videos can give patients a better idea of what to expect, reducing anxiety while highlighting your commitment to their care.

Use checklists to encourage compliance: Just as the use of checklists during surgery has profoundly reduced surgical and medical errors, a similar strategy can help providers ensure that patients understand crucial pre- and post-surgical expectations.

Tailor communication to each patient: Healthcare providers should personalize communications to meet each patient’s needs, including individualizing the content and how it’s delivered. Focus groups with former patients can help determine how different patient groups best understand and retain health information.

Regardless of the specific strategy, the takeaway is clear. Patient satisfaction is influenced by both the outcomes that healthcare providers deliver and by how these outcomes compare with patients’ expectations. And, as the report notes, patient education is the primary way to manage these expectations:

The education that patients receive before surgery has significant positive effects on surgery outcomes. These results include increased overall patient satisfaction, reduced problem incidence and improved quality of life.

That’s an outcome any doctor should find extremely satisfying.

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, and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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