1950 Tear

Striving to Do Less Harm in Medical Care

Money talks, even in healthcare it seems. These days, patient satisfaction scores are having a big impact on the profitability of health systems. So the harm in medical care that results from neglecting human needs for comfort, dignity, and respect is starting to get attention. It brings down patient satisfaction scores, which brings down the money a hospital can get from incentives for patient-centered care.

Some people are talking about this trend in terms of increased attention to patient suffering. Perhaps Thomas Lee, Chief Medical Officer for Press Ganey, started some of this conversation with his commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013. Press Ganey is an organization that makes a business out of measuring patient satisfaction. He wondered aloud “why we tiptoe around this term [suffering], which captures so completely what patients endure.”

Health systems are finding that little things can make a huge difference in patient suffering: eliminating blood draws in the middle of the night, telling people what to expect, treating people with dignity.

One physician told the New York Times of his shock upon learning that his patient satisfaction scores ranked him in the very last percentile nationally. But simply by slowing down, listening to patients, and answering their questions, he raised his score into the 95th percentile.

Perhaps this trendy idea will extend all the way to people with obesity. Studies like this one by Michelle Wong et al consistently show that they receive worse treatment because of their weight. Maybe some of these patient satisfaction wizards will connect the dots and figure out that healthcare professionals can make a big leap forward in patient satisfaction — simply by setting aside weight bias and starting to treat people with obesity respectfully. After all, they represent more than a third of a health system’s customer base.

How about that for a breakthrough in patient care?

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

Click here to read more in the New York Times about attention to patient suffering, here to read Lee’s commentary, and here to read about how patient satisfaction is making money for some health systems.

1950 Tear, image © James Vaughan / flickr

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4 Responses to “Striving to Do Less Harm in Medical Care”

  1. February 26, 2015 at 6:25 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    A nice nudge, Ted. And it invokes the Extend the Membrane notion you graciously allowed me to share last year:


    Us, not them!


    • February 26, 2015 at 6:39 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Joe!

  2. February 26, 2015 at 12:47 pm, Susan H said:

    As an obese person who has recently been receiving lots of medical care due to bladder cancer. I can tell you they treated me horribly in everything from basic helping me to get out of bed attached to an IV, helping change my gown when it was covered in blood and I was in so much excruciating pain I couldn’t hardly move. To the most important neglecting my requests for my pain medication for three hours that caused pain so severe it took me three days to recover with Morphine. Needless to say I was not given a patient satisfaction survey!!!

    • February 26, 2015 at 3:49 pm, Ted said:

      Susan, thanks for sharing your experience. Sad to say, it’s all too typical and it really makes me angry. My hope is that this situation will change. My prayers are for your health and comfort.