Timely patient satisfaction surveys: No longer an option

Guest post by Tom Scaletta, M.D., emergency department medical director at Edward-Elmhurst Healthcare, a health system that comprises three hospitals and serves 1.7 million residents in the west and southwest suburbs of Chicago.

The healthcare industry is making major strides to elevate patient satisfaction as a key performance indicator. In fact, due to these satisfaction survey scores' influence on value-based reimbursement, the focus on them is only expected to grow inside the walls of healthcare organizations.

In addition, the trend toward patient consumerism means that patients also demand transparency in satisfaction survey findings. As patients are encouraged to take more control over their care--selecting providers based on quality, cost and convenience--surveys will play a substantial role in either attracting them or driving them away.

Yet even with so much riding on survey results, most healthcare organizations still rely on traditional paper-based post-discharge survey methods that have some inherent and significant limitations. Administrators need to understand the confines of traditional surveys to avoid the risk of using instruments that provide flawed data.

Survey limitations impact data validity

Perhaps the largest challenges posed by traditional patient satisfaction surveys are their small sample sizes and low response rates, which can impact a survey's statistical validity. Typically, according to a recent study by Daniel A. Handel, M.D., about 15 percent of patients receive paper surveys and 11 percent of those return them, which equals a 1.7 percent sample rate. This translated to only 2,083 surveys returned for 119,244 patients treated annually.

If this were extrapolated to an emergency physician who sees about 200 patients per month, for example, only three patients per month would be surveyed--a statistically invalid sample. In many circles, 30 is cited as the "statistical magic number" that provides a valid sample size.

Read the full commentary at Hospital Impact