A Case Study in Keeping Plan Members ‘Satisfied’

The verb “to satisfy,” in its various forms, is subject to a host of applications–some of them X-rated, of course, and some even sarcastic. I recall laughing at a line in the final episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” more than 30 years ago, in which sitcom regulars enacted a “High Noon” western spoof that was actually a dream Van Dyke's character was having in the dentist's chair. Hero Rob Petrie had had to face villain “Bad Brady” alone because none of the cowboy bystanders would join a posse. “And now he may die!” the hero's wife scolded the bystanders after the showdown. “I hope you're satisfied!”

The cowboys, having saved their skins, stood with folded arms and replied in a chorus of deadpan casualness: “Yeah, I think we're pretty well satisfied.”

Our cover story this month, which begins on page 23, is about a health plan that excels at keeping its members satisfied. The meaning here isn't sarcastic, but it is distinct. It is different, for example, from objective indices of medical outcomes or patients' health. But member satisfaction itself can do much to affect the success of a health plan–or a physician practice.

We conceived this article before we knew that our choice for discussion would be Capital District Physicians' Health Plan in Albany, N.Y. Indeed, we hold no special brief for that HMO or any other. But given the temper of the times we weren't surprised to learn two things. One was that despite its notable success in one important area, this health plan, like all others, still faces challenges. It's ironic, for example, that this champ of an organization did not win accreditation from the National Committee for Quality Assurance on the first try–reportedly because of missing documentation rather than quality lapses. The second nonsurprise was that the plan seems to have managed so far to operate with respect for its doctors rather than arrogant manipulation of them. If there is one ticket to success this magazine would humbly recommend, that would be it.