Something happened in the last couple of decades of practicing medicine. On one hand, it's become increasingly difficult to care for our patients: we see 5 patients in the time we used to see 1; it's impossible to navigate insurance companies' rules; and hospital regulations seem to tie our feet and ask us to jump.
At the same time, medical administrators use "patient satisfaction" as the metric of success, and so regulate provider actions in service of that metric: sit down when you're speaking with patients; talk about feelings; talk about facts; thank the patient for choosing our hospital. Oh, and see more patients.
Somehow these formulaic demands feel both overwhelming and insufficient. We agree that patient satisfaction is fundamentally important. But we disagree that the route to patient satisfaction -- when up to half of physicians show signs of burnout -- is more rules, more sticks, and more carrots.
We'd like to propose something revolutionary: that patient satisfaction starts with provider satisfaction. Our experience is proof, the studies back it up, and our patients seem to echo the sentiment. So, in service of that…
5 reasons that patient satisfaction starts with happy, satisfied providers:
- Compassion fatigue can disable us. Compassion fatigue (sometimes called Secondary Traumatic Stress) is a documented condition, common in caregivers and healthcare providers. When compassion fatigue occurs, disconnection, negativity, and even inefficacy in regular work is the result. A lack of support, pervasive stress and pressure, and isolation are all causes -- the exact things that inspired us to start ClickCare -- and are things that persist in so much of healthcare.
- Happy providers communicate better. We all know that providers that communicate well have happier patients. But you might be surprised to find out that if we're happier, we'll communicate better. In fact, a study from the University of Arizona showed that happy people have deeper, more substantive conversations, something that patients seem to crave.
- Burned-out providers become unable to do even the basics. One recent study shows that providers with burnout are detached, have a low sense of empathy, and even lie and cheat. So while sometimes we think of self-care or avoiding burnout as a selfish thing, it's very clear that getting what we need as providers is the most altruistic thing we can do.
- Will power and good decision-making plummet when exhausted. There is a really fascinating set of research that shows that will power and good decision-making are linked. And the more decisions we are required to make (or the more will power we use), the more that "muscle" becomes exhausted. Once exhausted, our will power and decision-making become very poor -- until we recharge, rest the muscle, and are ready to use it again. As every healthcare provider knows, a day in the office is an endless series of complex decisions. And when we're not given the space or support to rest from that complexity, the evidence shows that we'll perform poorly.
- Finally, providers actually need the same things patients need. So often, providers and patients are pitted against each other in a "zero sum" model of medicine: it is assumed that if the provider is getting what she needs then the patient won't, and vice versa. In fact, however, as elaborated in this New York Times article, providers need many of the same things that lead to patient satisfaction. Both patients and providers need more time in the exam room, better communication, simpler regulations, less rush, and more authentic interaction with each other. So it's actually a win-win.