Measuring Patient Satisfaction with Accuracy

By Chelsea Brass

A study to examine how patient satisfaction is measured was carried out by a team of UT researchers including Dr. David Ring, Dell Medical School’s Associate Dean for Comprehensive Care and Dr. Laura Brown of the Moody College’s Center for Health Communication. Patient satisfaction is an important indicator of healthcare improvement, and with the advent of healthcare delivery reform, patient satisfaction has become a powerful catalyst for change via financial incentive mechanisms. Previous research suggests that patient satisfaction is tied more to the quality of the visit rather than other factors such as visit duration or wait times.

An important consideration with regards to measuring patient satisfaction is that scores tend to cluster at the top, a ceiling effect. If continuous process improvement is a goal, a ceiling effect makes it difficult to discern areas for improvement. As such, one of the goals of this team of researchers is to mitigate ceiling effects, as well as better understand the underlying factors comprising satisfaction. Another goal of the study is to see if patient mental health is associated with satisfaction.  

A randomized control trial assigned 258 patients to four different questionnaires. Both long and short questionnaires measuring satisfaction and perceived physician empathy were found to have substantial ceiling effects. Psychological factors including self-efficacy, health anxiety, and depression had no or only a small effect on satisfaction scores.

Future work is needed to further understand the essence of patient satisfaction in search of an instructive measure. An enduring message of this research is the willingness to accept lower scores in service of collecting meaningful data that can identify areas for improvement in the delivery of care.

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