Whether patient satisfaction scores can act as a catalyst for improving health care is highly debated. Some argue that pursuing patient satisfaction is overemphasized and potentially at odds with providing good care because it leads providers to overtest and overtreat patients and to bend to unreasonable patient demands, all to improve their ratings. Others cite studies showing that high patient satisfaction scores correlate with improved health outcomes. Ideally, assessing patient satisfaction metrics will encourage empathy, communication, trust, and shared decision making in the health care delivery process. From the patient’s perspective, sharing such metrics motivates physicians to provide patient-centered care and meets their need for easily accessible information about their providers.
In this article, the authors describe a seven-year initiative, which began in 2008, to change the culture of the University of Utah Health Care system to deliver a consistently exceptional patient experience. Five factors affected the health system’s ability to provide such care: (1) a lack of good decision-making processes, (2) a lack of accountability, (3) the wrong attitude, (4) a lack of patient focus, and (5) mission conflict. Working groups designed initiatives at all levels of the health system to address these issues. What began as a patient satisfaction initiative evolved into a model for physician engagement, values-based employment practices, enhanced professionalism and communication, reduced variability in performance, and improved alignment of the mission and vision across hospital and faculty group practice teams.