Patients look for mix of short wait times and long doctor visits

Physician ratings improved in 2011, according to the “Annual Report Card on Patient Satisfaction,” compiled by research firm DrScore, which based its findings on 36,000 online surveys completed by patients last year. Overall doctor ratings increased .5 percent, reported DrScore, and low ratings decreased by more than 2 percent since 2010.

“In 2010, the average score received by a doctor was 7.07,” said Dr. Steven R. Feldman, founder and CEO of DrScore. “That number rose half a percent in 2011 to 7.12. And for doctors with 10 or more ratings, 62 percent of those ratings were a perfect 10, an increase of 2 percent since 2010, lending to the statement that doctors continue to excel in the care they provide.”

As seen in previous years, the strongest factor related to a high patient satisfaction rating was a long visit with the doctor, even in instances when the wait time was one hour or more. According to DrScore, patients expect a visit of at least 10 minutes with their physician. For visits more than 10 minutes, the mean doctor rating was 9.2. For visits of 5 to 10 minutes, the mean rating was 6.7. But for visits of less than 5 minutes, the mean doctor rating was only 2.7, the report indicated.

Keeping patients waiting also hurts patient satisfaction. Patients who waited less than 15 minutes reported a mean doctor rating of 9.2. That number dropped to 8.0 for waits of 15 to 20 minutes, 5.7 for waits of 30 to 60 minutes, and just 3.5 for waits of more than an hour, according to the report.

But shortening the amount of time a patient spends with his or her doctor is far worse than keeping a patient waiting. Doctor visits of 5 minutes or less were much more detrimental to patient satisfaction than waits of one hour or more.

Patients awarded high scores to doctors who mixed short wait times with long visits. The report noted that 12,800 visits had waits of less than 15 minutes and visits with the doctor of at least 10 minutes. The mean doctor rating for those visits was 9.6. In contrast, for the 2.4 percent of visits with long waits (over an hour) and short visits with the doctor (less than 5 minutes), the mean doctor rating was just 1.1.

“Patients understand that sometimes they will have to wait to see their doctor,” said Feldman. “But it’s important that doctors do not sacrifice the time they actually spend with their patients to minimize wait times. The amount of time spent with your patient directly relates to how your patient perceives you.”

Feldman suggested that doctors take a few minutes between patient visits to walk through their busy waiting rooms. “Take five minutes to speak to all your patients who are waiting for you,” Feldman said. “Let them know you care; those five minutes will pay off more than any other five minutes of your day.”

Nearly 40 percent of patients who shared information about their visits provided constructive criticism about how their visits could have been better. The majority of that feedback fell into the area of doctor communication (47 percent) and staff and waiting times (33 percent each), emphasizing that medical care is a personal interaction.

“Among the issues that could have been better about the doctor’s care, the most common were related to communication,” Feldman said. “Top concerns were answering questions, time addressing the patient’s concerns, not enough time spent with the patient and not enough time spent on the patient’s emotional well-being.”

DrScore uses a scientifically validated online survey to capture core components of a patient’s visit with a doctor. Patients share the full spectrum of their experience with their doctor through their responses to the survey, the company said.

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