Understanding patient willingness to recommend and return: a strategy for prioritizing improvement opportunities

Jt Comm J Qual Improv. 1999 Jun;25(6):271-87. doi: 10.1016/s1070-3241(16)30444-8.


Background: Beginning in April 1995, an ongoing, comprehensive measurement system has been developed and refined at BJC Health System, a regional integrated delivery and financing system serving the St Louis metropolitan area, mid-Missouri, and Southern Illinois, to assess patient satisfaction with inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, outpatient surgery, and emergency care. This system has provided the mechanism for identifying opportunities, setting priorities, and monitoring the impact of improvement initiatives.

Methods: Satisfaction with key components of the care process among 23,361 patients (7,083 inpatients, 8,885 patients undergoing outpatient tests/procedures, 5,356 patients undergoing outpatient surgery, and 2,037 patients receiving emergency care) at 15 BJC Health System facilities was assessed through weekly surveys administered in April 1995 through December 1996.

Results: Structural equation models were developed to identify the key predictors of patient advocation-willingness to return for or recommend care. Across all venues of care the compassion provided to patients had the strongest relationship to patient advocation. Within each venue of care, however, a slightly different set of secondary factors emerged. The resulting models provided important information to help prioritize competing improvement opportunities in BJC Health System. In one hospital, a general medicine unit working for several years with little success to improve its patient satisfaction decided to focus on two primary factors predicting patient advocation: nursing care delivery and compassionate care. Root cause analysis was used to determine why two items-staff willingness to help with questions/concerns and clear explanation about tests and procedures-were rated low. On the basis of feedback from phone interviews with discharged patients, the care delivery process was changed to encourage patients to ask questions. Across the next two quarters, this unit experienced significant improvements in both targeted items.

Discussion: The significance of compassionate care and care delivery again speaks not only to the importance of the technical quality of clinical care but also to the customer-focused way in which this care was provided. After the primary predictors of patient advocation were identified, management was able to strategically focus improvement initiatives to maximize their impact. Across the organization, improvement teams scanned their data to find key factors where performance was lacking. Once these key opportunities were identified, the teams developed potential solutions and launched initiatives to improve their performance.

Summary and conclusions: Results suggest that some core issues are of extreme importance to patients regardless of whether they are receiving care in an inpatient, outpatient, or emergency setting. The compassion with which care is provided appears to be the most important factor in influencing patient intentions to recommend/return, regardless of the setting in which care is provided.

MeSH terms

  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Priorities
  • Humans
  • Illinois
  • Linear Models
  • Missouri
  • Multi-Institutional Systems / standards
  • Needs Assessment / organization & administration*
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care / organization & administration
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Advocacy
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient-Centered Care / organization & administration
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Total Quality Management / organization & administration*