Patients' top complaint? It isn't doctors or nurses, study finds

'Hardly anyone had a beef with the quality of health care received'

The vast majority of patient complaints about physician offices are about customer service, according to a new study published in the Journal of Medical Practice Management.

For the study, conducted by Vanguard Communicationsa marketing and public relations firm for specialty medical practices—researchers identified the words in nearly 35,000 Google+ reviews of physicians that were most commonly associated with each rating level, from one to five stars.

Yelp reviews: A missing piece of the patient-experience puzzle?

Study findings

Most patients rated their doctors highly, the study found: 61 percent gave five-star reviews, compared to only 23 percent who gave one-star reviews. When patients did leave negative comments, the researchers found that only 4 percent of their complaints were explicitly related to medical treatment. The other 96 percent focused on issues such as inadequate communication, wait times, and disorganized operations.

The study also found that patients who leave low-star reviews tended to write more content. Among negative comments, the most common issues cited were related to:

  • Communication (53 percent);
  • Long wait times (35 percent);
  • Practice staff (12 percent); and
  • Billing (2 percent).

"The nearly unanimous consensus is that in terms of impact on patient satisfaction, the waiting room trumps the exam room," says study co-author Ron Harman King and CEO of Vanguard. "Hardly anyone had a beef with the quality of health care received."

Meanwhile, the most common compliments contained in five-star reviews were related to:

  • Bedside manner (40 percent);
  • Practice staff (28 percent); and
  • Communication (24 percent).

The importance of front-office performance in patient satisfaction may actually be good news for physician practices, King says. "Generally, it's far simpler to fix problems at the front desk or physician scheduling than to deal with allegations of inadequate medical skills" (Gooch, Becker's Hospital Review, 4/26; Olinger, Denver Post, 4/26; Vanguard release, 4/24; Vanguard newsroom, accessed 4/24).

Long wait times aren't inevitable: A tale of two visits

Making an appointment to treat an illness still means waiting: on the phone, in the waiting room, the exam room, and the pharmacy. But it doesn't have to be this way.

We've outlined 12 common scenarios across an episode of care that can lead to patient dissatisfaction, and we've provided modern solutions to solve each one. Check out our slideshow, and start making changes to your medical group that patients will notice.


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