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November 11, 2014

Improving Patient Satisfaction in the Emergency Department

Strategies to Improve Perceptions of Your ED

When you go to your favorite restaurant, you aren’t thrilled if you have to wait a long time to be seated. You don’t like poor service or a waiter who is discourteous. Rather, you have a much more enjoyable experience if service is prompt and the staff is courteous and friendly.

So why should it be any different for patients visiting the emergency room? Patients are consumers in every sense of the word. They appreciate and remember consideration and attention from the Emergency Department staff just as much as they remember a neglectful staff member.


The Gateway to a Good or Bad Impression

The Emergency Department is the gateway to the hospital, and surely impacts the hospital’s brand. The impressions and perceptions that patients retain from their experiences in the Emergency Department go a long way in influencing whether they return or refer others to the hospital for elective procedures.

Emergency room patients are already on edge—they typically perceive their needs as urgent, even if they are not. Patients want fast and efficient care from doctors who show compassion and communicate well. Wait times are a critical issue, and patients want to be informed of the next steps in their workup so they know what to expect.


Determine the Problem

The first step that Emergency Department managers can take to address and correct patient satisfaction issues is to determine the dissatisfaction problem by asking:

  • Are patients unhappy with the attitude of the staff?
  • Are they unhappy about long wait times?
  • Were test results or insurance coverage not explained to their complete satisfaction?

Do not have any preconceived notions. Keep an open mind, track the source of the complaints, and get a thorough explanation.


Use Data to Illustrate the Problem

Once you’ve determined the issue(s) making patients unhappy, you have to gather data that sheds light on, or supports, the existence of the problem. You can gather data by undertaking patient surveys. Keep in mind, though, that some patients may have skewed perceptions of their time spent in the Emergency Department, especially if their costs were more than they expected.

You can also use physician and nurse interviews as tools to provide hard data, as staff members may be able to offer insight into barriers or issues causing the problem. You might also review Press Ganey or other performance scores. You could evaluate EMRs to examine throughput and disposition times, among other variables. Look for patterns in the data you collect.


Develop a Plan, Engage the Staff

Once you have gathered all of the facts, you should develop a plan for correcting the problem. Next, address the stakeholders—your staff. Explain your conclusions and your plan. Maybe it’s a hardware problem like an open bed shortage, or perhaps it’s a more sensitive issue, such as a problem with staff attitude toward patients.

You may have to counsel staff members to improve their attitudes. You could suggest that they improve their communication skills using the AIDET framework:

  • Acknowledge: Greet patients with a smile and respect;
  • Introduce: Introduce yourself and explain to patients how you are going to help them;
  • Duration: Communicate with patients to ease long wait times;
  • Explain: Detail the next steps in your patients’ treatments, such as any required tests;
  • Thank you: Thank patients for their consideration.

Whatever the case, don’t be abrupt with the staff. Spend enough time with them so that they will understand your approach, your objectives, and how the proposed changes may affect personnel. Do not focus solely on negatives. Instead, reinforce the positives—the end result that will benefit staff and patients. Change will not come overnight, especially if correcting the problem involves changing the culture within the department.


Constantly Evaluate

You will need to continuously evaluate and reassess the changes you’ve put into place. Start with the following:

  • Question the staff periodically
  • Recalculate performance scores
  • Recheck EMRs and throughput times

Nothing is set in stone, so you may also need to do a little tweaking every now and then.



Increasing patient satisfaction scores can only help your facility’s perceived image. These suggested techniques are just a few that you can use to improve your patients’ experiences and, ultimately, your hospital’s brand.


Need Assistance Improving Patient Satisfaction in the ED?

Soyring Consulting employs operational experts who can assess, recommend, and implement vital changes to improve the performance of your department.

Learn more about identifying issues in the patient care process here »


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