Those of us who work at academic cancer centers often talk about our three overlapping missions:
- Research – Successful cancer centers conduct cutting-edge cancer research that helps advance cancer medicine so we can do more to help our patients in the future. To assess research productivity we count major research grants, important publications, and research advances that lead to better patient care.
- Education – Successful cancer centers educate and train the next generation of cancer researchers and care givers, as well as the public about cancer. To assess education, we look at how competitive we are at attracting the best and brightest students to our education programs, as well as the accomplishments of our former trainees.
- Clinical care – Successful cancer centers provide quality, state-of-the-art interdisciplinary care including cancer prevention, early detection and therapy. To assess clinical care, we track how well our patients do after they receive therapy from us by looking at survival and quality of life. We also track cancer incidence to evaluate the success of our cancer prevention efforts.
There is an additional component to clinical care that is more difficult to measure – delivery of quality service to our patients. Successful cancer centers work to provide a top-notch patient experience. Cancer centers are very different from settings such as retail where service excellence is a priority. Our patients never want to have to seek our services. They are scared and in unfamiliar surroundings, and they have great anxiety about the future. They should be treated not only for their life-threatening medical condition, but also based on their needs as a person.
How do we measure patient satisfaction and the patient experience in a consistent way? We ask patients about their experience through anonymous surveys distributed by an outside group (the company we work with is called Press Ganey). The results of these patient surveys are shared with us, including both ratings and comments from patients. This allows us to understand and track how well we are doing from the patient’s point of view, and what we can do better.
The surveys have been asking the same questions for a number of years which allows us to track patient satisfaction over time. Patients are asked to rank each question about our service on a simple scale of “very poor”, “poor”, “fair”, “good” and “very good”.
Here are the data on the percent of patients that ranked us at the top level (“very good”) over the past 3 years on three key questions.
“Efforts to include in decisions”
“Staff worked well together”
“Likelihood of recommending practice”
It is wonderful to see this steady increase in patient satisfaction over the past three years (essentially all of the patients who did not give us a “very good” gave us a “good”). This is the result of incredible hard work and dedication by our cancer clinic leadership group (Mo Milhem, Hisakazu Hoshi, Zach Pollock, Tina Devery, Geri Quinn, Garen Carpenter and many others) as well as the entire cancer clinic team. They looked carefully at patient comments and suggestions, and used this information to improve the patient experience.
We want our patients to be satisfied with our service, yet we can never be fully satisfied with the service we provide. We recognize there is always room for improvement. We will continue to ask our patients about the areas they feel could be improved further. In recent surveys, these include “information about delays” and “wait time in clinic”. Our team is hard at work on these issues as we strive to provide ever improving service to our patients.
Yes, we must continue to focus on progress in cancer research, education, and cancer care. However, we can’t be satisfied solely with data demonstrating our success in these areas. We must also address the needs the patients themselves identify as important. Only then can we be satisfied that we are doing everything possible to reduce the burden of cancer for those we serve.