Health care in the U.S. is shifting towards a value-based system where patient satisfaction plays a key role in the patient experience. Patient satisfaction is a reflection of the individuals overall experience with receiving a given treatment. It can be viewed from two perspectives: the quality of care and customer service. Individuals who are satisfied with the care they receive are more likely to be adherent to prescribed treatments, which is linked to improved outcomes and an overall higher quality of life.
What Determines Patient Satisfaction in Outpatient Physical Therapy?
A 2011 article published in the Physical Therapy Journal asked and answered this question1. Overall a high percentage of patients (68% to 91%) reported being satisfied or completely satisfied with their experience in outpatient physical therapy. Three key dimensions of the patient experience were found to be associated with patient satisfaction. These dimensions are the interpersonal attributes of the physical therapist, the process of delivering care, and how the care was organized. The process of care includes such factors as continuity of care (discussed in a previous article), adequate follow-up, and involving the patient in decision making. The organization of care includes such factors as convenient hours, parking, cleanliness of the clinic, and the overall helpfulness of the staff. The remainder of this article will discuss the physical therapist attributes associated with patient satisfaction.
Physical Therapist Interpersonal Attributes: The Strongest Predictor of Patient Satisfaction
The attributes of the physical therapist have been shown to be highly associated with how satisfied patients are with outpatient physical therapy. Examples of such attributes include the physical therapist’s skills, knowledge, professionalism, and friendliness. Most patients expect these qualities in any health care provider and are sometimes erroneously thought to be universal across all providers. However with the shift of health care towards a value-based system and increasing specialization, advanced training and lifelong learning are becoming increasingly important. Today most expert physical therapists hold doctoral degrees, are board certified, and have completed advanced residency or fellowship programs in their area of specialization.
Knowledge and skills are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to maximizing patient satisfaction. Effective communication skills are the most important attribute that a physical therapist can possess. Patients want their physical therapist to provide clear explanations about their condition. What is the diagnosis? Patients want their physical therapist to offer prognostic information. How much improvement can I expect and how long will it take? And patients want their physical therapist to explain their role in the treatment process. What can I do for myself to recover quickly? Finally, and perhaps the most important attribute any medical professional can possess is empathy. Patients want to feel they are being listened to and dealt with in a sympathetic and respectful manner. This is becoming increasingly less common as busy clinics render treatment by multiple providers. Therapist-Patient interactions may suffer and empathy is sacrificed in the process.
Multiple factors contribute to patient satisfaction with outpatient physical therapy. The interpersonal attributes of the physical therapist are by far the most important of these factors. Specifically, effective communication and empathy have been shown to be strongly associated with patient satisfaction. When deciding on a physical therapist, do some homework and be sure these attributes are present.
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- Hush J, Cameron K, Mackey M. Patient satisfaction with musculoskeletal physical therapy care: a systematic review. Phys Ther. 2011;91(1):25-36.