Americans' satisfaction with the hospital industry dropped 5% between the first quarters of 2009 and 2010, falling to its lowest level in five years, according to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, which measures consumer satisfaction for 10 economic sectors.
The ACSI gauges satisfaction on a 100-point scale, and the hospital industry fell from a score of 77 to 73 this year. A 12% dip in ER satisfaction in the first quarter was partly responsible for the drop. Overall, the healthcare sector was down nearly 2% for the year.
The dissatisfaction seems primarily confined to inpatient services, however. Satisfaction with ambulatory care increased a little over 1%, and the score of 83 out of 100 was significantly higher than the satisfaction levels for hospitals.
"The downturn for hospitals suggests that initiatives to improve the quality of care have not had the desired effect," said Claes Fornell, founder of the ACSI. "A combination of a greater focus on outpatient treatments and an increase in the number of after-hours facilities as an alternative to ERs may help relieve some of the pressure on hospitals and reverse or at least slow the downturn in patient satisfaction."
In contrast to the healthcare industry, consumer satisfaction was up in other sectors of the economy. The healthcare and energy sectors were the only ones to decline in the latest report, and those drops offset gains in other areas to keep the overall consumer satisfaction level relatively unchanged.
The struggles for hospitals come despite the fact that most have made patient satisfaction one of the top strategic goals for their organization in recent years. For example, improving patient satisfaction was the second-highest ranked priority for the next three years in the 2010 HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey. More than 38% selected it as a top priority this year, compared to 26% in 2009.
Most industries tend to see a drop in consumer satisfaction scores during a recession, and although healthcare reacts differently to economic changes than other sectors, the bad economy may have played a role in the dropping satisfaction rates for hospitals last year. More than a quarter of those surveyed for the HealthLeaders Media Patient Experience Leadership Survey said lack of funding or budgeting priority was the biggest obstacle to incorporating more patient experience strategies. Many hospitals had to trim budgets in 2009, and the cost-cutting measures may have impacted patient satisfaction in some cases.