Have you ever been sent a survey after visiting the doctor? If you have, and your answers were honest, you’ve probably helped your local healthcare office improve their healthcare services. These surveys might seem unimportant, but if used well, they can impact your entire patient experience.
What is the Purpose of Patient Satisfaction Surveys?
Healthcare facilities and providers use patient satisfaction data, collected from surveys, to analyze the quality of care and identify gaps in the organization. Patient satisfaction survey data also helps healthcare organizations improve patient loyalty, positive word-of-mouth and referrals, according to The Journal of Patient Experience.
Examples of patient satisfaction measurements include hospital environment, physician communication and staff responsiveness.
Despite their long-time use, surveys gained even more importance in 2007, when insurers like Medicare and Medicaid began incorporating patient satisfaction data into payment calculations for healthcare centers. The precedent led the federal government to consider patient survey results when setting pay levels for hospitals starting in 2010.
Insurers also paved the way for value-based reimbursement models and started reimbursing hospitals that it graded on core quality measures through the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey. Among the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) incentive programs, the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program is currently the only that recognizes hospital improvement.
Patient satisfaction reporting is considered a highly valued metric that impacts the healthcare management bottom line. According to the CMS, the three major goals of healthcare quality and service surveys are:
- Production of data that allows comparison of hospitals on topics important to consumers.
- Public reporting to allow creation of incentives for hospitals to improve quality of care.
- Enhanced accountability in healthcare by increasing quality of hospital care in return for public investment.
What Do the Surveys Measure?
Patient satisfaction surveys focus on what matters to the patient throughout their care cycle. For example, measuring someone’s health status (e.g., blood pressure) and calling it a day may not capture the overall satisfaction of the patient.
The Journal of Primary Health Care and General Practice explains that patient satisfaction is based on eight factors:
- Interpersonal Manner: provider’s interaction with patients
- Technical Quality: doctor’s competence and accuracy of diagnosis
- Accessibility/Convenience: wait time and scheduling appointment factors
- Finances: reasonable cost and insurance coverage
- Efficacy/Outcomes: provider’s helpfulness
- Continuity: keeping the same provider
- Physical Environment: clear signs, directions, and a clean, pleasant environment
- Availability: being readily available for patients
Benefits of Patient Satisfaction Surveys
Monitoring survey feedback allows healthcare departments and health providers to take control of what they need or should address from the care and services standpoint. For example, in 2018, a University of Chicago social research group found that most people are surprised when receiving a medical bill that they thought would have been covered by insurance. The cause? According to the findings, people lack understanding of their coverage plans. Whether this sparks dissatisfaction, the results could help the patient’s provider or medical office be more informative.
The design and administration of government-based surveys have sparked debate, nonetheless, amongst healthcare professionals. According to an article from The Wall Street Journal, medical professionals that faced Medicare’s federal score implementations in 2012 said that the questionnaires were unfair for relying too much on patient perspectives that aren’t always accurate to medicine.
Yet the Journal of Patient Experience makes the case that satisfaction is one-dimensional, unlike more subjective factors like perceptions and experiences and if conducted properly, surveys measure factors that go beyond clinical care.
Examples of a Patient Satisfaction Survey
When it’s time to collect patient data, healthcare professionals have three options. They can either pick national surveys, if they qualify to participate, pay for one created by an outside vendor or design one internally.
Examples of popular surveys across healthcare settings include:
- Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) – A 32-question study required for all U.S. hospitals that’s in the public domain and doesn’t need a permit to be accessed.
- 12-Month Patient Survey for Adults (CAHPS) – Measures patient satisfaction related to doctor’s office appointments.
- Health Plan Survey (CAHPS) – Collects data related to patient health plans and their services. Sponsors of the survey include state and federal agencies such as the Department of Defense and the CMS.
- Patients’ Perspectives of Care Survey (HCAHPS) – Survey asks random discharged patients to rate their hospital experience and overall satisfaction.
How Do You Write a Patient Satisfaction Survey?
Before you conduct a patient-satisfaction survey consider the type of facility you work in. Is it a community hospital? An urgent care facility, or a doctor’s office? Primary questions will help you navigate the focus of the survey and what needs to be rated by a patient.
“A well-designed survey can help you improve your practice. The key? ‘Keep it simple,’ and act on what you learn.” -Brandi White, Measuring Patient Satisfaction: How to Do It and Why to Bother
An article published in FPM, an American Academy of Family Physicians peer-reviewed journal, outlines several steps to take when you write a survey:
- Make sure the place where you work embraces quality improvement
- Make sure the survey covers three major areas: quality issues, access issues (e.g., Is it easy to make an appointment?) and interpersonal issues (e.g., Is the staff caring?)
- Word questions carefully, dig deeper into them and avoid biased or vague vocabulary
- Use consistent scales (e.g., 10-point scales, points ranging from “strongly agree to “strongly disagree”)
Points to Consider When Administering a Survey
Whether you’re a long-time professional or starting off your healthcare management career, understanding how to administer surveys can grant you the opportunity to take an in-depth managerial look at your field. The Pennsylvania Medical Society outlines nine factors you should consider before handing out a survey to a patient:
- Sample size: Consider handing out the survey to as many patients as possible. The larger the data, the more representative it becomes.
- Distribution method: Keep a consistent distribution process.
- Medium: Try to diversify the survey access by offering paper-based, e-delivery, mobile versions, or a combination of the three.
- Demographics: Patient factors like healthcare plans, family size and address enhance your data analysis.
- Highlighting the issues: Include more questions referring to looming concerns. The data can be useful in the improvement process.
- Adding a feedback section: Make sure you have a feedback section. A feedback box can be helpful to the improvement process as well.
- Adding open-ended questions: Revise the questionnaire and confirm that there are enough open-ended questions. They allow the patient to elaborate.
- Keep anonymity: Try to keep the survey anonymous. Patients should always be able to protect their identity.
- Patient encouragement: Let patients know about the progress of their feedback.
The Role of Healthcare Management
People who are ready to enter healthcare management and be influential leaders are expected to keep up with industry changes and, most importantly, patient concerns. Patient satisfaction surveys are a crucial tool for continuous quality improvement in healthcare.
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