For patient satisfaction surveys, the details count

Patient satisfaction surveys are a major part of hospital operations, but developing effective ones can be deceptively complicated, argues a column in the American Journal of Managed Care.

Although providers have a wide array of choices in both survey instruments and companies that collect and analyze such responses, they must ask several questions beyond that point. These include the questions of how to identify the best questionnaire, how to distribute it and how often, write Betsy Chase, director of research at New England Cancer Specialists (NESC) in Maine, and Steven D'Amato, executive director at the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine.

Although NESC, as a private practice, is not yet required to offer patient satisfaction surveys, it developed one six years ago to determine a reliable way of assessing patient experience, they write. One key decision was choosing whether to distribute the survey in paper or electronic form. Although electronic surveys allow for clinicians to ask more in-depth questions about quality of life issues, improve provider-perceived communication with patients, and allow for better provider-perceived tracking of changes in quality of life, they also have their disadvantages. Some recipients may experience "technology intimidation," while others may not have access to a computer or the Internet. Furthermore, the electronic format makes it considerably harder to enforce adequate participation levels.

NESC's first survey was short and had a 95 percent completion rate, the authors write, but tabulating the results required a major work commitment, as it covered four offices and 14 physicians, and the numbers were crunched by hand. Three years later, it began using the Clinician and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey, which reduced labor requirements but increased costs.

Last year, the American Hospital Association spoke out against Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services plans to expand the types of satisfaction surveys, warning of the potential confusion and administrative burden, FierceHealthcare previously reported. And healthcare leaders told FierceHealthcare the efficiency or comprehensiveness of surveys is meaningless if leaders don't act on the results.

To learn more:
- read the column