Yes, We Survey the Angry People

Last time, I wrote about patient experience scores, the percentile rankings, the distribution of responses, and how staff are almost always surprised when they see that it isn’t just the angry people who fill out surveys. One thing that inevitably gets asked whenever I present this kind of data is, “Can we filter out the people who leave here ticked off so they don’t get a survey?”  

I used to laugh when they’d ask that, but quickly realized they weren’t joking. They’d really like us to exclude dissatisfied people. But it doesn’t work that way.

Let’s start with the obvious. Really? You really want us to not get feedback from people unless they’re happy? Does any company have that luxury? With Yelp just a click away, every business is subject to ratings, good and bad. I can rate everything from my dinner at the four-star restaurant to the Uber driver who took me there. If they want good reviews, they need to do a good job, not cherry pick the satisfied customers. That’s not just dishonest, it’s silly, as it sets a completely unrealistic set of expectations. It would be even more disappointing to have a bad experience because, according to the reviews, no one has ever had a bad experience. 

But more importantly, we learn more from our unhappy patients than we do from our happy ones. As much as I tend to focus on the positive, there are often ideas or suggestions from patients who wanted something more from us that are really constructive and useful. 

For example, at one hospital, we added some simple signage in our parking garage to more clearly point out the entrance for day-surgery patients. At another, we created scripting for our medical assistants that let patients know they could skip the checkout desk unless they needed a follow-up appointment. These were things that were easy to address but, had it not been for the surveys, we wouldn’t have realized were dissatisfiers.

And most of us have a blind spot about our own words and actions. I’ve known plenty of people (myself included) who say things with the best of intentions, not realizing they’re annoying or downright offensive to some people. This is especially true in healthcare settings where people tend to be a bit more sensitive. But how else would we know if we didn’t receive the feedback?

Let me quick to say that it’s equally important to celebrate and recognize the positive comments that come through on those surveys. People love to know that their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated, and it’s a great way to improve your organization’s culture. But it’s a mistake to not look at ways you can make things even better.

Yes, it’s discouraging to see negative comments, especially when you remember that patient and you remember doing everything you could to try and make their visit a pleasant one. But any organization (or individual for that matter) that wants to improve needs to hear some honest feedback, even if it’s tough to take. Surrounding yourself with people who never complain or offer some constructive criticism won’t help you get any better.

Author: Kate Kalthoff

It's simple: leave people, places, and things better than I found them. For more than 20 years, Katherine Kalthoff has been working to improve the way healthcare organizations connect with the people they serve. She began her career at Gift of Hope, the organ procurement organization for Illinois, approaching families and securing their consent to donate a loved one’s organs for transplant. Through compassionate, empathetic listening, Kate led the Family Services team to one of the highest consent rates in the country. From there, Kate went to Advocate Health Care, Illinois’s largest healthcare system, as a Physician Relations and Business Development Manager, improving physician satisfaction and strengthening the relationships of both the employed and independent physicians with the system as a whole. Just prior to joining Northwest Community Healthcare as the Patient Experience Officer, Kate was the first Manager of Patient Experience at DuPage Medical Group where she built a platform of organization-wide service excellence through her inspiring brand of education, training, and one-on-one coaching. A much sought-after speaker and trainer, Kate has a very simple approach to her work: leave people, places and things better than you found them.

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