The Dangers Of “Patient Satisfaction”

No, I am not saying that having satisfied patients is dangerous. That’s silly. Or is it?

Check this out. Last week, we talked about the dangers of “rating” in medicine. How chasing good ratings can get in the way of a doctor’s delivering quality medical care. Today, we zoom in on a special case of this phenomenon. In this post, you see a report that telemedicine doctors who prescribe antibiotics for patients with colds obtain much higher patient satisfaction ratings than doctors who don’t prescribe such unneeded drugs.

A couple of thoughts come to mind. The first of which is “DUH, of course they do.” I didn’t really show up at a telemedicine portal, credit card duly charged, to be told that a prescription won’t help, and I should wait quietly for tincture of time to cure my cold. $50 please!!!

More generally, ThinkGen Advisory Board member Neale Martin, Ph.D. has demonstrated conclusively that “customer satisfaction” is a measure that should not be used in most circumstances because it is not a reliable or valid predictor of behavior. While most behaviors are driven by habit and/or emotion, satisfaction questions tap into the “executive mind” where few decisions are actually made.

Bottom Line. Actually, two bottom lines here. First, we should stop doing satisfaction survey research of any kind. While it looks and sounds important, it really isn’t. Second and more importantly, we should stop putting physicians in a position where they have to practice bad medicine in order to get good satisfaction ratings and keep their jobs.

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