Kevin Sullivan, a partner in patient satisfaction survey firm Sullivan Luallin Inc. in San Diego, has databases with the views of 340,000 patients covering 53 medical specialties.

At the Medical Group Management Association's Annual Conference, Oct. 24-27 in New Orleans, Sullivan will host a session unveiling secrets of that data. One big one: If patients like the staff and their own physician, the practice's patient satisfaction scores on all other measures of the practice will be higher, regardless of how satisfied patients actually are with those other measures. "If personal scores are high, you get a significant bump in acceptable wait times and in satisfaction with parking," Sullivan says. "Your people scores exhibit a halo effect on every other score."

Since 2002, patient satisfaction scores have been creeping upward, so physician practices are always chasing a moving target--but so are their competitors, Sullivan notes. He attributes the upward trend to the start of pay-for-performance programs, which started getting everybody on board to improve satisfaction.

But the key is to keep working to improve satisfaction and keep an eye out for failing rates, Sullivan advises. "You can give a pep talk and ask everyone to do better, and if that's all you do you'll get a quick bump. But it's just like a Sunday sermon that's forgotten by Wednesday."

So, group practices need a management structure for patient satisfaction, just as they need a structure for every other aspect of the practice, Sullivan adds. "That's what this talk is going to be about. It doesn't do you any good to have these good scores if you don't have an effective way of raising them. After a while, patients again feel like they are being processed."

The session, F6, "Patient Surveys: Six Good Things to Do With the Data," is scheduled at 3:30 on Oct. 26. More information is available at

--Joseph Goedert


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