Background: Assessing patient satisfaction exclusively through close-ended scaled survey questions may not provide a complete picture of patients' concerns. Only recently has the role of complaint data as a management tool received attention. FORMATION OF THE TEAM AND THE DATABASE: The Complaint Management Team was created in January 1997 at Hartford Hospital (Conn) to develop a coding and reporting mechanism for complaints (negative comments) gathered from patient surveys. Developing the codebook was an evolutionary process. A database was designed to collect three separate complaints and the verbatim text associated with the code. REPORTING: Department-specific, location-specific, and organization wide reports are generated. Quarterly department-specific reports are used to trend the incidence of complaint themes, identify specific locations with problems, and initiate improvement efforts. OVERALL FINDINGS: Since March 1997, most complaints have fallen into five major categories--accommodations (environment), quality of care (care and treatment), respect and caring (humaneness or attitudes and behaviors), timeliness, and communication. The hospital's real estate department has completed a project focused on increasing patient satisfaction with parking. Two projects are still in progress; one is focused on increasing patient satisfaction with respect and staff caring attitude/behaviors, and one on improving satisfaction with the level of noise on the units.
Discussion: Approximately 4,000 survey complaints are coded every year. One limitation of the database is that all sources of complaints received throughout the organization are not yet captured. Another limitation is that the outcomes measurement section has exclusive access to the database.
Conclusions: The patient complaint tracking system enables staff, managers, teams, and departments to develop improvement efforts based on quantitative and qualitative data.