Low response rates skew patient experience survey data

satisfaction scores
Patient experience data are biased because of low response rates, researchers say.

Patient experience data can capture a portrait of quality, but current methods of gathering those data may not paint a complete picture. 

Researchers at George Washington University partnered with hospital management and job recruitment firm US Acute Care Solutions to analyze patient experience reports recorded between 2012 and 2015 at 42 facilities and including 242 doctors, according to a study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. 

The data, they found, varied significantly from month to month, especially for physicians. If a doctor provides care a certain way, their individual scores shouldn't vary all that much, Arvind Venkat, M.D., chair of research at US Acute Care Solutions and the study's lead author, said in an announcement

In some cases, a physician's scores jumped from the 20th percentile in one month to the 80th the next. Scores for the facilities also fluctuated, but to a lesser degree. 

RELATED: The clinical ROI of patient experience efforts 

A major factor in this trend is the low response rate to patient surveys, the researchers said. The response rate for the surveys they studied was between 3% and 16%. 

"Imagine you conduct a survey, and only the very happy and very unhappy return their surveys," Venkat said. "What you get is a very biased sample. That makes it difficult to come to any meaningful conclusions from the data." 

Having valuable patient experience data is key as they are incorporated into public healthcare ratings systems, including those from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and are included in determining payment for some value-based care models. These data are also tied to the Medicare Access and Reauthorization Act. 

RELATED: How patient-reported data can improve quality measures 

Plus, hospitals may use such data internally to determine physician pay rates, and they can impact a facility's standing in the community. 

A number of factors that could predict how a hospital would score on patient surveys were out of their control, according to the study, so as methods to gather these data evolve, risk-adjusted approaches could balance scores to better account for these factors. 

"The voice of the patient is increasingly important in healthcare, particularly today with rising costs of care and increasing out-of-pocket costs for our patients," Jesse Pines, M.D., director of the Center for Healthcare Innovation and Policy Research at GWU and one of the study's authors, said in the announcement.

"What is clear from our study is there needs to be a better process to measure, capture and report patient experience data."