Dentists: most patient surveys give wrong results

Facts and Figures from the German Health Care System

What it’s all about

In the context of continuous improvement and strategic development of patient care in dental practices, the results of surveys of practice visitors are of central importance. But most analyses deliver false results. A 6-pillar concept helps to avoid this.

Patient surveys are „small practice analyses

Patient surveys are an easy-to-implement multifunctional instrument, so-called „small practice analyses“, because in addition to exploring the patients‘ opinions

  • they can be used to determine the quality of the structure, process and results of the practice’s services from the visitors‘ point of view, and they create transparency and orientation, aspects that are essential especially for medical practices that work in a highly competitive environment,
  • they offer an opportunity to compare the patients‘ image and impressions of the practice with the practice team’s own image, in order to correct possible misjudgements and resulting wrong decisions in time,
  • they can be used to identify previously unused performance reserves and opportunities,
  • they are a marketing instrument that shows patients their importance for the practice, because they are given the feeling that they are being taken seriously
  • they are an early warning system for identifying and counteracting undesirable developments in the practice’s work that are not immediately recognisable,
  • they can be used to develop patient satisfaction targets for the practice and to monitor their development over time.

Simple and misleading

The majority of surveys conducted in dental practices are based on school grade scaling. Their advantages are

  • the high degree of familiarity and acceptance among patients as well as
  • the simple and quick evaluability.

However, this is offset by

  • a low differentiating significance and, above all, the lack of
  • the lack of suitability for an adequate depiction of satisfaction reality.

reality. In addition, experience has shown that school grades as evaluation standards deliver overly positive results, even in the case of poor results. Influenced by their own experiences with grades, patients tend to give more negative evaluations in the case of dissatisfaction, but shy away from expressing the poor performance realistically in a corresponding value.

The Patient Care Quality Score (PCQS)

School grades do not provide any insight into the requirements of practice visitors. However, this information is important because not all performance characteristics have the same significance and importance. Only the complementary consideration of this variable makes it possible to form priorities for action by distinguishing between core and marginal strengths or weaknesses. If the dimensions „importance“ and „satisfaction“ are combined in a key performance indicator, this results in the „Patient Care Quality Score (PCQS), which reflects the quality of care in a realistic and validated way.

Its superiority over the school grading system is shown by the result of a comparison: if school grades and requirement/satisfaction values are collected in parallel, the grade „3“, for example, is associated with PCQS values between 31.4% and 54.7%. The range illustrates how imprecise the school grade indicator is.

Strategic practice development with the 6-pillar approach

In order to be able to use patient surveys operationally and strategically as meaningful practice analyses, an approach consisting of six pillars helps:

(1) A survey technique that enables the Patient Care Quality Score (PCQS) to be determined.

By combining requirements and satisfaction, the quality of care can be determined and the analysis characteristics classified or prioritised according to their need for action, an option that helps teams in dental practices to focus their scarce resources on what is really important.

(2) Differentiating the PCQS according to the practice’s core target groups.

Different target groups also have different requirements for practice performance, which cannot be identified in an undifferentiated analysis. Therefore, it is essential to conduct surveys separately according to the most important patient groups for the practice work.

(3) Determining the willingness to recommend

It is an indispensable strategic indicator that describes the patients‘ willingness to act, which results from the quality of care they perceive. In many cases, patients are satisfied with the practice’s performance, but they also see deficits that they personally do not pay further attention to, but do not want to impose on others, primarily when making a personal recommendation.

(4) Determining the Patient Experience

This describes the overall experience of the patients, which results from their experiences at the individual service sections („touchpoints“) of the practice work – from making the appointment to saying goodbye. The more positive-homogeneous this experience is, the more intensive patient loyalty and image-building are.

(5) The comparison to a minimum-optimum measure

The determination of the quality of care provides an isolated statement for the practice, but not about how it is positioned in relation to the market and environment level. The minimum standard relevant for classification can be determined with the help of a comparison to other dental practices, the optimum can be determined from a benchmarking to the best practice standard. „Good“ satisfaction values are always within this corridor.

(6) A monitoring of the satisfaction trend over several analysis points in time

Most patient surveys are carried out in a 2-year cycle, a comparison with the previous results is rarely made. In order to establish a professional satisfaction management, the surveys must be carried out on a short-term and continuous basis, supplemented by the examination of changes over time. Only in this way is it possible to formulate and monitor satisfaction goals, e.g. in the form of PCQS values to aim for, which then guide the work of the practice.

Further information and support on the topic

The Valetudo Check-up© „Patient Satisfaction Dentistry“ is based on the described 6-pillar approach and enables practice teams to implement this method in a simple, practice-tested form.