Patient satisfaction has become increasingly important in today's competitive healthcare environment, Dr Ho Manh Tuong, General Secretary of the Ho Chi Minh City Society for Reproductive Medicine, told a recent workshop in HCM City.

"Vietnam's healthcare system is in the midst of dramatic transformation," Tuong said at the workshop, organised by the Private Healthcare Management Club.

While competition between medical institutions is increasing, little had been done to identify the most important characteristics of healthcare services to improve patient satisfaction, he said.

He noted that healthcare quality included both technical quality, which reflects the accuracy of medical diagnoses and procedures, and functional quality, which is how patients perceive the services delivered.

"In other words, since patients are often unable to accurately assess the technical quality of healthcare service, patients have a tendency to infer technical quality based on functional aspects," he said. "Patients' quality perceptions are usually determined by functional quality."

Dr Nguyen Minh Man, Deputy Manager of the city's University Medical Centre's general planning department, said patient satisfaction depended on several factors: doctors and nurses' competence, results of examination and treatment, hospital care for patients, waiting time, patients' trust in hospitals, hospital facilities and medical fees.

Dr Le Huu Phuc, who is studying for a master's degree in Healthcare Management in South Australia's Flinders University, cited research that showed US hospitals with high patient satisfaction provided more efficient care and were associated with higher surgical quality.

To achieve the highest patient satisfaction index, Phuc said hospitals should provide good salaries, have a safe working environment and proper policies.
If not, low-quality healthcare services would be provided, causing patient dissatisfaction.

The Ministry of Health has told health departments in provinces and cities to improve patient satisfaction at their hospitals.

Vuong Anh Tai, Deputy Head of the city Department of Health's medical profession division, said that his department had started to pay more attention to patient satisfaction.

The city Department of Health is, in partnership with global healthcare company US's Merck Sharp&Dohme and market research company Nielsen Vietnam, conducting a survey on people's satisfaction with the city's healthcare.

Based on the survey, the city will take steps to improve shortcomings.

"Satisfaction of patients and their relatives are important in the development of both public and private hospitals," he said.

Besides professional skills of doctors, he said the hospitals should also conduct their own surveys on patient satisfaction periodically.

Last year, 53 percent of complaints via hotlines of hospitals in the city reflected patient dissatisfaction about behaviour and working attitudes of health staff, including doctors and nurses.

Man said doctors and nurses at his hospital were given training in communications skills. A special unit monitors the staff while they work and patients provide feedback so that staff can improve in a timely fashion.

He said these skills should be incorporated into a training programme at medical universities.-VNA