PCMH Pointers: Do’s and Don’ts of Patient Satisfaction Surveys

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One of the most efficient—and data rich—ways to gather feedback on the patient experience, a PCMH requirement, is through formal patient satisfaction surveys.

That said, the survey process (from design and methodology to what to do with the gathered information) can be as complicated as our health care system—unless you come to the table with a good understanding of your intent, as well as your resources.

PCMH Pointer: What’s Your Patient Satisfaction Survey Goal?

“You need to start by first defining your purpose,” says David N. Gans, MSHA, senior fellow Industry Affairs at the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). “That means asking whether you’re looking at a survey as a tool for continuous improvement, marketing or a combination of both.”

Ultimately, patient satisfaction surveys offer the data and the power to pay off in ways that include building and improving patient relationships, prioritizing service initiatives and increasing referrals, but you should be aware of what works best.

Plan ahead. Determine what your goals are, and let them guide you. If you’re seeking certification or have objectives based on continuous improvement, you may want to pursue a standardized tool such as the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey. If you’re developing a marketing strategy, you may want a customized survey instead. Find a reputable vendor. Do your vetting homework. NCQA has a list of certified vendors for the CAHPS survey available online: www.ncqa.org/ tabid/170/Default.aspx. Define your population. You should have a strong idea of your sampling intent. Are you going broad and surveying your entire patient population, or do you want to survey a more targeted demographic? Consider your vulnerable patients. Along with defining your survey sampling, you’ll need to think about specific features related to vulnerable patients—including how age, chronic illness and socioeconomic factors affect how you gather and assess feedback. Again, a qualified survey vendor can help you through this process. Make it easy. This covers anything from survey modality—by phone, in-person, e-mail, regular mail or online—to the length, language, organization and complexity of content. Consider the patients you’re surveying and the best methods for that audience, and word questions carefully and according to language and literacy cues. Try to design your own survey without help. It’s one thing to develop a quick post-visit questionnaire for patients but another thing entirely to design and implement a survey to assess experience or satisfaction for the purpose of broad data collection. It’s best to outsource and collaborate with a professional. Survey too much. There’s a balance between too much and just enough when it comes to patient satisfaction surveys. You want to do it enough to have comparative data or satisfy certification and recognition requirements, but you don’t want to deluge patients with frequent inquiries that desensitize them to responding. Go crazy with questions. Asking too many questions or having too many open-ended questions on one survey is simply too much to coalesce and assess. Keep the information to yourself. The information you receive is valuable only if it’s actually used. Though certification or recognition requirements mean you’ll have to show evidence of doing surveys, don’t stop there. Share survey results with your staff and use the information to strengthen your practice. Forget your purpose. Never lose sight of your original purpose, and perform checks throughout the process to avoid getting lost in the details. Be sure that your survey is doing what it was intended to do. If it falls short of defined goals, work with your vendor to reevaluate and revise.

Again, NCQA provides a list of certified vendors for the CAHPS survey. Make sure to check it out.

Matt Brock
Matt Brock is the Director of Communications at NCQA. After more than two decades working in broadcast journalism, Matt now leads NCQA’s efforts to develop unique content that engages and informs consumers as well as providers, plans and policymakers via this blog, our website, NCQA.org and numerous social media platforms. Matt’s goal is to educate consumers and to direct them to the best resources when considering quality in their health care decisions.

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