Quality time with physical therapists above fancy equipment, convenient parking

September 26, 2002

Patients place far greater priority on quality and quantity of time spent with their physical therapist than on sophisticated equipment, easy parking and convenience of location, researchers say.

In the current health care environment, economic factors are forcing health care providers throughout the medical profession to spend less time with their patients. Yet the amount and quality of time are the factors most closely linked by patients to customer satisfaction. In the medical field, just as in business, service is the key, according to a research team from Penn State, University of South Carolina, Franklin & Marshall College, and Lebanon Valley College.

According to the study, patients rate first in importance the amount of time the therapist spends with them, along with the therapist's listening and communication skills, and willingness to give clear explanations of treatment. The quality of patient-therapist interaction counts for much more than high-tech medical hardware, convenient location and office hours, and accessible parking.

Dr. Mary Beth Pinto, associate professor of marketing, Penn State Erie, The Behrend College; Dr. Paul F. Beattie, clinical associate professor in exercise science, University of South Carolina; Dr. Martha K. Nelson, associate professor in business administration, Franklin & Marshall College; and Dr. Roger M. Nelson, professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, Lebanon Valley College, presented their findings in the paper, "Patient Satisfaction with Outpatient Physical Therapy Care: Instrument Validation and Identification of Important Components," in a recent issue of the journal, Physical Therapy.

In an effort to determine what contributes to patient satisfaction with physical therapists, the four researchers conducted a two-phase survey. In the first or pilot phase, they administered a 22-item questionnaire to 191 persons receiving outpatient physical therapy under Worker's Compensation at various clinics throughout the country; the patients had to complete at least three visits. The 22 questions asked the patients to rate a variety of factors, ranging from physical facilities to time spent with the therapist, as impactors on patient satisfaction. Their answers made it clear that personal service was of far greater importance to them than an attractive office, convenient parking and office hours, and a congenial receptionist.

In the second phase, the researchers surveyed a sample of 1,868 participants who had completed their individual programs of physical therapy. These patients, representing clinics in 17 states, had a mean age of 46.7 years and likewise received free treatment under Worker's Compensation.

The second sample was given 20 questions that again were related to all aspects of patient care. However, it was the 12 questions that dealt directly with patient-therapist interaction that struck the most responsive chord with participants and demonstrated that patient-therapist relations -- far more than physical plant, equipment or support staff -- is significantly linked to patient satisfaction. The other eight questions were dropped as comparatively inconsequential.

"Maximizing patient satisfaction is a sound philosophy from both a clinical and business perspective," Pinto notes. "Satisfied patients are more likely to comply with treatment and to continue to seek health care at a given facility."

The researchers' findings confirmed that adequate time spent for individual patient care and the professionalism of the therapist and clinic staff are more vital for patient satisfaction than are the quality of equipment, facility location and availability of parking.
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Penn State

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