Perceptions are a patient's interpretation of what happened. Like it or not, patient perceptions are a healthcare provider's reality. The provider's perception of greatness only has legitimacy if the patient's perception validates it. Perceptions also change over time and within the moment based on the dynamics that are continuously playing out as the patient moves through the patient experience. When working with patient perceptions, it is important to remember four important points and determine how they impact the design of an effective patient satisfaction system:
- 1. In the human mind there are no objective facts. All information processed in the mind is biased and impacted by things such as past experience, education, public opinion, and personal goals. Many patients enter a healthcare experience with certain expectations and/or fears based on patient value propositions that they have learned from prior experiences and stories that are shared with them. Patient value propositions are those things that people hold to be true about their healthcare providers because all evidence leads them to those conclusions. An effective patient satisfaction system helps a provider to understand and manage the perceptions that drive value propositions.
- 2. Historically, most patients have not looked to make superior choices. Patients of the past primarily wanted to avoid making bad ones. The avoidance of a bad choice is even more important in today's environment where stories of poor outcomes are more public and frequent for the industry. Feelings that a patient has made the best choice out of what options are available to them will become more and more important as younger generations become more frequent consumers of healthcare services and loyalty is based on a very different set of factors. Behaviors and practices that have historically allowed providers to survive by just getting by could easily lead to decline and demise in the future.
- 3. Patient perception is a healthcare provider's reality. In order to achieve a prominent position in the minds of community members and prospective patients, a provider must find ways to be viewed as the preferred healthcare provider. One of the primary dangers in managing patient perceptions in a service environment is the fact that the average patient does not know that he or she is not happy until it is retrospectively obvious that his or her needs were not met. Because the average patient can not judge the total quality of the healthcare experience until after the experience is concluded and the perception of improved health or harm exists, the sense of let down and violation that evolves can be very damaging. This damage can be profound and far reaching when the outcome is harm as it involves a serious violation of a special trust. Once trust is damaged, it requires significant effort to fix it and in some cases is irreparable. An effective patient satisfaction system allows for the timely identification of negative perceptions that may have not come to light during the patient/provider encounter.
- 4. Consumerism is alive in health care and maturing pretty rapidly. Most healthcare providers are not ready for what it will bring in the next decade. Consumerism is best defined as the personal happiness one experiences with the purchasing and consumption of material goods and services. Over the past twenty-seven years, the expenditures in health care related to the goal of quality have increased only to see public satisfaction and trust in the industry decline. This is largely due to the fact that many of these efforts have not been appropriately focused on those things that drive patient happiness with healthcare services. The need to be responsive to patient-driven consumerism will only become greater as the younger generations become more frequent health care consumers as they have been born and raised to understand their right to be happy with a service they purchase. An effective patient satisfaction system works hard to understand the patient's personal happiness with the provider's services.