Want Happier Spine Patients? 5 Approaches to Care


Improve patient satisfaction can benefit a spine practice on many levels and lead to word-of-mouth referrals and an improved standing in the community. Here are five physicians and healthcare executives on how to produce happier spine patients.

1. Get to know the patients' needs. The focus on patient satisfaction should start even before the patient comes into the office and needs to continue through the surgical experience, said Scott Blumenthal, MD, a spine surgeon at the Texas Back Institute in Plano. He also suggests working with patients' schedules to meet their needs, especially when patients are coming in for second opinions.

"A lot of patients are unsatisfied because surgeons don't spend enough time with them and they are asked the same questions over and over at the practice," he said. "Here, we have someone writing the information down so when I walk into the office I can say, 'Correct me if I'm wrong, but you are here because the primary care doctor diagnosed you with a herniated disc and thought you may need surgery,' or something of that nature."

2. Provide automation with EHR. Electronic health records often initially breed inefficiencies, but once staff and surgeons can use the equipment effectively, hospitals can gather data to improve the patient experience and cut costs where possible. Tulsa Spine & Specialty Hospital implemented NextGen's EHR. Patients love the flexibility and speed EHRs provide, including online bill pay and fewer redundant forms to fill out.

"We are growing with NextGen and working on developments we think should be incorporated," said Terry Woodbeck, CEO of Tulsa (Okla.) Spine & Specialty Hospital. "They are listening and moving forward with our ideas. We've been using the data to reduce costs of hospital stays and now we are able to provide services in other areas because we've been able to lower our costs drastically."

3. Improve wait times. Minimizing office wait times can tackle one of the top complaints patients have with physician offices and hospitals, said Sanjeev Suratwala, MD, spine surgeon at North Shore-LIJ Health System-Glen Cove (N.Y.) Hospital. To do so, work to improve office efficiency from the moment a patient walks into the office to the moment they sign out. He also recommends keeping track of patient schedules to ensure there isn't significant overlap and each patient is scheduled for a reasonable time.

"Healthcare is in part a service industry," he says. "It is also a field in constant change. The timeless tradition of having satisfied patients with good outcomes to build a successful practice never changes."

4. Focus on lowering implant costs. Implants are one of the highest costs associated with spine surgery and many providers are focused on initiatives to lower implant prices. These initiatives include purchasing commoditized implants direct from manufacturers, purchasing in bulk to negotiate better per-unit prices and eliminating waste whenever possible.

"The new technology is very expensive, but not necessary for many of the cases," Mr. Woodbeck said. "Many patients require standard instrumentation. We have a system where we can go directly to manufacturers and purchase this hardware."

Tulsa Spine & Specialty Hospital has trained in-house technicians that act as device company representatives to order, restock and set up equipment. This system has incurred for a 30 to 40 percent savings on implant costs.

"Those are huge dollars because many times implants can cost more than all other expenses for that stay combined," he said. "When you purchase wholesale implants direct, they are FDA-approved; you are just removing the middleman. Many other types of businesses sell and purchase direct, so orthopedics should be able to do that too. "

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 facility 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," said Jason Jones, vice president of patient satisfaction at Laser Spine Institute in Tampa, Fla.

Have daily or weekly strategy meetings with your facility'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 said.

More Articles on Spine:

See More Patients Per Day: 5 Organizational Tips for Spine Surgeons
Study Finds Higher Rate of Adult Scoliosis Than Previously Indicated
Rockford Chamber of Commerce Names Dr. Fred Sweet "Person to Know"


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