Leveraging The Immense Potential Of Patient Complaint Data

As anyone who reads this site would know, it’s become steadily more important for providers to capture and use patient-directed data.

Increasingly, hospitals and clinics live or die on how patients respond to and engage with their care. This extends far beyond whether patients had a nice warm fuzzy feeling after their medical visit, out into the real world where their complaints are perhaps even more important than the positive grades they award to providers.

I’ve come to believe that this complaint data – particularly complaints made and tackled while patients are still undergoing care – could be the next leap forward in understanding patient experiences. (Full disclosure: That’s why I’m building a start-up, still in its underground stages, to do just that.)

As I see it, this data could offer a new and powerful source of insight on how patients travel through their care. It could also, when correlated with other forms of patient care measurement, give providers a far better understanding of where some of their key processes fail.

As things stand, healthcare organizations are always looking in their rear-view mirror when it comes to tracking care quality and patient satisfaction.  Typically, health leaders rely on survey data collected by companies like Press-Ganey.

Not only are these surveys conducted days or weeks after the patient care experience, they’re limited in their scope. In fact, I’d argue, traditional survey models aren’t flexible or adaptive enough to pinpoint problems that can’t be tracked by a Likert scale.

When it comes to engagement, meanwhile, providers are still struggling with how to define it clearly enough to track it in meaningful ways. Is portal use a proxy for patient interest and commitment to their care?  The tendency to schedule and follow up on return appointments?  The likelihood of patients following physician instructions?  It’s far from clear what we’re measuring, so it’s not surprising that these questions keep floating around without generating good answers.

That being said, there’s one action patients can take which is straightforward, powerful and clear – they can complain. They can find fault with their rooms, doctors’ bedside manner, nursing support, the professionalism of the billing clerk or receptionist in their doctor’s office, follow-up visits and more.

In extreme situations, they will scream and demand attention if a loved one doesn’t seem to be getting appropriate care and get in administrators’ faces until something happens to address their concerns.

While these responses may be inexact, they offer timely (and in some cases immediate) feedback on what patients are seeing, hearing and feeling. Even if they’re off-base, patient and family complaints are honest.

If healthcare leaders track these complaints, there’s much to gain. Not only does this allow them to intervene in bad situations promptly, in more or less real-time in some instances, they get a direct read on problems of which they might never have been aware.  When gathered, normalized and cross-referenced with other forms of patient experience feedback, complaint data can pinpoint issues that might not have been isolated in any other way.

This kind of unique patient data can offer a fine-grained look at what’s killing patient satisfaction and engagement. If gathered in a sophisticated way, it can make an even bigger impact.

For example, if hospitals set up kiosks designed to solicit such complaints, they can guide patients through steps that can bring even more value to the table.  The system behind the kiosks would not only allow patients to identify problems with their care, their physician, their room or even the food, but could also improve the value and specificity of their input. For example, the system could use an adaptive AI engine to present increasingly specific questions based on their responses.

Once the data was captured, the system would analyze it to derive actionable insights. Hospitals and other providers would be able to gather rich patient’s view information and use it to adjust workflows both on the fly and over the long term.

As I see it, leveraging complaint data is the next phase in hospital satisfaction measurement. It’s about time the data providers use to measure themselves comes from frustrated patients. After all, praise doesn’t teach you a whole lot, but pain usually does!

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.