It turns out you don't have to be a good doctor to get good scores on your patient satisfaction scores. You just have to have a name that is easily pronounceable. The name-pronunciation effect: Why people like Mr. Smith more than Mr. Colquhoun, published December 2011 by researchers Simon M. Laham, Peter Koval and Adam L. Alter in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests evidence for the name-pronunciation effect: easy-to-pronounce names (and their bearers) are judged more positively than difficult-to-pronounce names. I am intrigued by this research as it has potential real life implications on how hospitals and their physicians get paid. The process that determines how hospitals get paid by Medicare has been turned upside down. Most recently, The Medicare National Bank has decided that patient satisfaction scores are so important they are going to withhold a percentage of hospital payments if defined patient satisfaction thresholds are not achieved.
Even though we know higher patient satisfaction scores are associated with higher mortality, hospitals are hiring experts in AIDET to teach their doctors and nurses how to be nice. This is an effort to prevent bloodshed and bankruptcy. I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that patients would view physicians with easily pronounced names as more likable than physicians with difficult to pronounce names. The research here is very compelling. Do you have a difficult to pronounce African, Asian, Indian, Eastern European or Middle Eastern name? Your patients just might be discriminating against you when they fill out their patient satisfaction surveys.
If you are a hospitalist and your compensation package is tied to how well you do on your patient satisfaction surveys, and you have a difficult to spell name, I would work hard to exclude that component from your contract. This research might suggest your patients just don't find you that likable by no fault of your own. This makes me wonder if doctors with harder to pronounce names get sued more often or lose more often at trial. Perhaps this is the doctors' discrimination version of the death penalty.
What about all the nurses and other hospital employees that come in contact with patients? If patients have a higher likability for people with easier to pronounce names, will hospitals hire candidates with simple names in an effort to maximize results on their patient satisfaction surveys? Will inner city hospitals with a higher proportion of ethnic employees suffer needlessly at the hands of racial diversity? I think this research suggests the patient satisfaction scores and survey payment program being administered by HCAHPS is a potentially a racist program. If hospitals are going to get paid based on the "whiteness" of their faculty's names, hospitals may find reasons to avoid hospital physician credentialing to foreign born doctors or avoid hiring nurses that weren't born down the street. That's sad.
Read more about the name-pronunciation effect.