Is Emergency Medicine Turning to Emoticons?


    Transitioning medicine from a fee-for-service model to a patient satisfaction model requires a new way of looking at things. Healthcare facilities have to come up with new ways to measure patient satisfaction just to know whether or not they are getting the job done. To that end, there may be a new trend coming: the use of patient sentiment tools that measure satisfaction by way of emoticons.

    Really? Is that what things have come to? Yes indeed. According to Patient Engagement Hit’s Sara Heath, researchers at the University Of Pennsylvania Health System are testing a new patient sentiment system they believe will give doctors, nurses, and patients a better way to express their satisfaction with the emergency department.

    The system utilizes strategically placed terminals that allow people to register their current satisfaction level by choosing an emoticon and pushing its corresponding button. If you’re a doctor feeling unhappy at the moment, just push the button with the frowning face. Meanwhile, the nurse on the other side of the room could be pushing the smiley face button. Who knows what patients in the waiting room are doing?

    Results Thus Far

    Heath reports that the study is providing plenty of data. Just five months into it, researchers have received emoticon responses from 14,000 individuals. Just one third of the responses have been registered by patients exiting the facility while the remaining two thirds have been registered by doctors and nurses.

    Researchers say the higher response among clinicians could be due to where terminals have been placed. They made a point of locating the tools in places where doctors and nurses are most likely to congregate. As for the patient terminals, they are located near facility exits.

    The researchers maintain that technology is built into the devices to prevent them from measuring multiple responses from the same person. For example, a terminal would automatically lock down if a person attempted to register multiple responses by continually hitting buttons. Researchers are fairly confident that the responses registered thus far have been accurate.

    How But Not Why

    So, can patient sentiment kiosks really help improve emergency medicine? That’s what researchers are attempting to find out. Here’s the challenge: a kiosk only tells them how participants are feeling at any given moment. It does not tell them why.

    You might have a group of locum tenens physicians from Vista or another staffing agency who register unhappy sentiments for two or three shifts in a row. It’s great to know that your locums are unhappy, but the data doesn’t explain why they are unhappy. Furthermore, registering a response is anonymous. Staff cannot even figure out who the unhappy clinicians are for the purposes of talking to them.

    The same goes for patients. Regardless of whether a patient’s sentiment is positive, neutral, or negative, there is no way to know anything beyond immediate feelings. You don’t know who the patient is, why that person came to the ED to begin with, how long he or she was there, or what kind of care was provided.

    More Data Would Help

    It is clear that having more data alongside the sentiment responses would help a great deal. That additional data would help hospital administrators better understand what their clinicians and patients are thinking. As far as the sentiment terminals themselves, they do have a role to play.

    Will emergency medicine be relying on emoticons to measure patient outcomes in the future? To some extent, yes. But hopefully the technology experts will combine patient sentiment with new data gathering streams to give EDs and administrators more data to work with. Emoticons alone are not enough.