6 Ways Spine Surgery Centers Can Increase Patient Satisfaction

Jason Jones is the senior director of customer service at Laser Spine Institute in Tampa, Fla. He has extensive experience with outpatient spine surgery centers and improving patient satisfaction.

Surgical outcomes are clearly important for centers to maintain, but patient experience can be overlooked as a major influential factor in patient referrals and loyalty, he says.

Here are Mr. Jones' six ways for spine surgery centers to increase overall patient satisfaction.

1. Communicate with patients throughout the process. As soon as a patient commits to using your ASC, reach out to him or her over the phone to "paint a clear picture of what is going to happen when they arrive," Mr. Jones says.

"Our goal is to do everything in our power to take away as much anxiety as possible," he says. "We want their focus to be on getting here and getting better."

Patients should be welcomed immediately upon arrival by a receptionist or designated greeter. The welcoming process lets patients know they are important and have arrived to a safe environment of care, he says.

Laser Spine Institute uses designated patient experience coordinators to work with individuals throughout the surgical process. The coordinators go over what to expect from the pre-operative testing through the post-operative instructions. They also go over the physical plan of the surgery center to further put patients at ease. These positive steps create a far-reaching effect.

"We try to make the experience as pleasant for them as possible,” Mr. Jones says. "That really creates so many positive ripples, not only for the patient and the healing process, but for our staff as well. We have disarmed the patient from worries they may have, which makes it much easier for them to take in information, directions or instructions they need to follow."

ASCs should strive to give the patients as much of a full scope of their procedure as possible. During transitions, explain what's next and why they may be getting an MRI or diagnostic testing, Mr. Jones says. "At every interaction we are explaining why we are doing something and what's next. They are not left guessing," he says.

2. Pick the right support staff. Spine and surgery centers can make the mistake of hiring a hospitality or support staff without considering whether or not the members' personalities will be an optimal fit for the job.

"Keep in mind that in many ASCs the hospitality staff, not necessarily the medical staff, spends the most face-to-face time with the patient," he says.

Appoint support staff who are comfortable interacting with patients and who have warm, open personalities to make the overall environment welcoming. Putting the right type of people in hospitality roles can make all the difference for patient satisfaction, he says.

3. Cater to caregivers. An often overlooked factor in overall patient satisfaction is the satisfaction of the patient's caregiver. It's important to understand the role caregivers play in the surgical experience and post-operative recovery, Mr. Jones says. He even suggests tailoring some educational brochures or handouts specifically for caregivers and issues they may face.

"We want them to feel empowered to provide the right type of care and support for the patient," he says.

A nervous caregiver can translate his or her concerns to a patient. Speaking directly to this person and letting him or her know what to expect at the facility and what may be dealt with after surgery will put all minds at ease. Make sure these people know what the day of surgery will look and feel like for them, as well as what will be available.

Speaking to the caregiver during surgery can also speed up the discharge process. "While the loved one is in surgery, we are spending time with the caregiver and explaining the discharge process," Mr. Jones says. "When they go up to discharge and get their patient, the nurse is able to direct all instruction and focus on the patient because it is the second time the caregiver is hearing the information."

4. Follow up. Laser Spine Institute contacts patients several times after surgery to check in on their progress and address any concerns. Patients receive phone calls at one week, two weeks, one month and two months, Mr. Jones says.

"We are focused on confirming what they are feeling, what they are experiencing," he says. "We ask if anything has changed since they left and if they are finding themselves being able to hit the benchmarks we talked about. We believe those first 60 days post-surgery are critical to recovery."

Time and resources should be allocated to patient follow-up, reaffirming to patients that your center cares about their success and road to recovery. Several follow ups also reaffirm to patients that they are still patients of your center after surgery has taken place and are welcome for any future needs.

"Not only are we trying to make sure they are OK clinically," he says, "but we also want to make sure they know their journey with us doesn't end when they leave our doors. We are always there for them." This helps to ensure patient loyalty to your ASC in the long run.

When patients feel comfortable, they will often contact the spine center after the follow ups have ceased for clinical questions, future physician referrals and more. Encourage those additional calls, Mr. Jones says. Ensure you are properly staffed so your medical staff can handle these additional calls, which is a critical element to long-term patient satisfaction. All of our efforts during the in-person experience can be forgotten quickly if our post-operative follow up does not match the same level of service.

5. Take feedback seriously. Rather than waiting months for any customer feedback, allow patients to give suggestions and recommendations in real time. Providing points throughout their experience for patients to give comments, in addition to asking for feedback after the fact, will help your center implement positive changes more quickly.

"We work hard to build trust with patients so that we can check in with them and ask about their experience. If they are unhappy, we capture that in real time, rather than two months down the road," he says.

Take patient comments and satisfaction seriously and truly make the changes they bring to your attention. Also, strive to build an atmosphere of understanding and trust, where patients feel welcome to give honest feedback and voice concerns.

Patient satisfaction scores and feedback should be important at all levels of leadership within your center. All personnel should be focused on constantly improving the patient experience, he says. Patient satisfaction is vital to the overall success of an organization.

Have daily or weekly strategy meetings with your center's leadership to get updates on patient satisfaction and pinpoint where service can be improved. "If we see trends in a week, it's not uncommon to break into a meeting within 24 hours to develop a strategy to attack those trends," Mr. Jones says.

6. Only work with likeminded third parties. Only work with outside companies that are prepared to match the level of care and attention given at your spine center, Mr. Jones says. If a patient needs a pre-surgical test administered at an outside clinic, then the surgery center should ensure their patient will experience the same level of patient service there as they would at your surgery center.

"Many times leaders forget we are still being judged on the patient experience they had in those other facilities," he says. "We choose our partners very carefully."

Partner with facilities whose service level and values matches that of your own. Ensuring these outside providers are still catering to your patients' needs provides peace of mind for your practice, as well as an additional level of care patients may not experience elsewhere.  

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