Patient Surveys: Quality Measure or Marketing Tool?

Article excerpt

As the increasingly complex world of health care becomes crowded with patients uncertain of which plan to choose or what doctor to see, hospitals are vying for the millions of dollars those patients could bring to their facilities.

This competition has sparked an all-out marketing war between hospitals. Oklahomans are bombarded every day in the paper, on the radio, and television, by advertisements telling them why they should choose a particular hospital. Many of those ads are rooted in patient satisfaction surveys. They give hospitals a clear indication of what is important to patients, as well as what can attract new business and retain what they already have.

"Over the last decade, hospitals have become more concerned about the level of competition," notes Leslie Gamble, director of marketing and public relations of Deaconess Hospital. "It was a major turning point for us to use patient surveys in marketing our hospital." Deaconess is certainly doing that. After receiving exceptional survey results for the second quarter of 1997, the hospital embarked on an extensive media campaign to promote their numbers. "You don't see any of them (the competing hospitals) touting their scores," Gamble added. "We just have to get the word out that we really care and we will continue to do that. Other hospitals would like to have our numbers, but you just can't make it up." So are the patient satisfaction surveys merely a marketing tool? Gamble and others in her position say no. They point to changes in the quality of care patients are receiving due to information gathered by the surveys. Some even go so far to say that marketing is a second thought when it comes to patient surveys. "Our results are not used necessarily as a marketing tool," notes Dennis Gimmel, director of marketing for the Oklahoma division of Columbia/HCA Healthcare. "Providing good quality care is our main purpose." Gimmel points out that survey results for Columbia hospitals go to the operations department and the vice president of patient care, unlike some of his competitors. "Patient surveys are one factor in everything we do when trying to understand and improve the level of patient care." Judy Akins, vice president of corporate relations of Mercy Hospital, agrees. "Our surveys are much more focused internally. We enjoy the chance to share our results with the public, but we prefer to start internally." But how reliable are the results on which hospitals are basing their media campaigns and patient care improvements? …