A Better Bedside Manner


March 1, 2017

Can a survey improve how patients experience health care?

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Seattle Magazine.


Choosing a physician is often a tough task. Patients want a qualified doctor, but most also look for other qualities in that person: good communication skills, for example, and punctuality. How do patients find that kind of information?

That’s where the Washington Health Alliance is trying to help. A patient-experience survey—conducted by the alliance last year for the third time (the first survey was done in 2012)—measures how well health care organizations are doing in areas such as communicating with patients, offering timely appointments and coordinating care. The nonprofit alliance has clout, because its signature annual Community Checkup report has been measuring the quality of care in Washington since 2008.

The current survey and resulting report, Your Voice Matters, compares the results across medical groups and clinics in Washington and nationally. See how your medical groups rate by going to the alliance’s website (wahealthalliance.org) and searching “Your Voice Matters.”

A few of Washington’s larger medical groups were surprised by their patients’ responses, discovering that there wasn’t necessarily a correlation between the quality of care provided and the quality of the patient experience. In other words, patients can be getting great care, but may not have a great overall experience with the other things that matter to them, such as communication with their doctor, punctual appointments and so on. Last year’s survey found that, on average, patients in Washington want more punctual appointments and information, and for a good reason. Patient who receive timely access to care and information are more likely to identify health problems early and are less likely to make unnecessary visits to emergency rooms.

It can take time to change behavior, but the goal of the survey is to do just that. “Creating a pattern of positive patient experience is very important,” says Susie Dade, deputy director of the alliance. “Reliably knowing what to expect from your provider when you seek care creates trust and lays the foundation for improving the health and well-being of the patient.”

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