When you’re a medical provider, the customer isn’t always right. Letting patients dictate the scope of service, as is done in fields such as retail, results in dangerous situations and potentially poor outcomes. Still, patient satisfaction surveys are an important part of health care administration and do sometimes dictate or influence clinician action; here’s a look at the pros and cons of surveying your patients.

Do Patient Surveys Lead to Bad Medicine?

Dr. William Sonnenberg, president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians, tells of a time he was approached after a lecture. Urgent care physicians told him that their performance was judged primarily on 2 factors: patient satisfaction and whether the patient is seen within a certain number of minutes. The result, said the clinicians, was bad medicine.

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When too much emphasis is put on patient satisfaction surveys, there are unintended consequences. For example, a physician seeking to meet satisfaction quotas may be afraid to deny his or her patient antibiotics even though the medication is likely to do little to treat presenting symptoms. As that mentality spreads, the result is the overprescribing of antibiotics, which weakens the medication’s future ability to fight illness.

Surveys Can Provide Useful Data

Patient surveys are useful in some contexts. Hospitals often survey patients regarding staff communication and interaction, which allows organizations to reward clinicians who go above and beyond minimum levels of care. Answers to specific questions, such as whether nurses responded timely to requests or explained each procedure fully, provide useful information for improving processes within facilities.

A Growing Survey Requirement

As federal payers look increasingly to generate reimbursements based on survey scores, patient satisfaction, and other quality measures, providers shouldn’t look for patient surveys to go away. Rather, clinicians and administrators should work together to take the value from such data without negatively affecting quality of care or creating scenarios for bad medicine.

Have you ever proactively surveyed your patients? Did it help improve your practice?


  1. Holding nurses accountable for patient satisfaction. American Sentinel University website. June 6, 2012.  http://www.americansentinel.edu/blog/2012/06/06/holding-nurses-accountable-for-patient-satisfaction/.
  2. Smith J. How you can use patient satisfaction surveys to improve performance. The Profitable Practice website. March 19, 2014. http://profitable-practice.softwareadvice.com/use-patient-satisfaction-surveys-to-improve-performance-0314/.