Nightly News   |  July 24, 2013

Hospitals balance patient satisfaction with path to healing

The Affordable Care Act ties millions in Medicare funding to patient satisfaction. But the mandated patient surveys may have unintended consequences, critics say. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>>> as we mentioned our health news about a big change happening in hospitals. more and more trying to be a nice place to stay though few of us ever want to go there. there is a financial incentive to offer patients better services and surroundings to the tune of $1 billion a year. our report on all of it from dr. nancy snyderman .

>> reporter: an early morning massage.

>> that 's wonderful .

>> reporter: some aroma therapy. these are the amenities not at a spa but california's saint helena hospital. 61-year-old is here for heart surgery .

>> we want patients to know they're more than a procedure to us. that we will take care of them. that they're our guests in our home.

>> it's not just the act of actually massaging. it's the fact that they care enough to do this.

>> reporter: it is happening in hospitals across the nation. the affordable care act ties $964 million in medicare funding this year to patient satisfaction. there is even a grading system. lower scores can mean fines. a 32-question government survey asks patients for example whether doctors carefully listen to you and patients have taken to social media sites to post reviews of their doctors.

>> i feel thoroughly googled every time a patient walks into my office. it's pretty obvious that patients are more savvy today.

>> reporter: in new york, the hospital has a no-wait emergency room . every patient who walks in is instantly triaged into an er bed. but with faster access comes frustration.

>> in the emergency department you have to balance two responsibilities, the responsibility to the patient you are seeing and responsibility to all patients walking in the door. we have to see everyone who comes in for whatever they come in for.

>> reporter: critics say mandated patient surveys might have unintended consequences. "forbes" magazine discovered hospitals trying to artificially boost their satisfaction scores. one of the more egregious things that i came across was the example of a hospital that was providing vicadin goody bags as they called it to discharge patients.

>> reporter: american hospital association responds that they're committed to care delivered in the right way in a manner that respects the values and preferences of the patient and family.

>> give me a breath.

>> reporter: at saint helena 's, the 61-year-old recovers from his surgery. modern health care , now balancing patient satisfaction with the best path to healing. dr. nancy snyderman , nbc news, new york.