Creating Surveys That Improve Healthcare Experiences

Healthcare providers aim to deliver excellent care and service to every patient. Many rely on patient satisfaction surveys to understand if they are meeting patient needs and expectations. These surveys provide insights into areas of strength and opportunities for improvement.

However, creating an effective patient survey is an art and a science. It requires thoughtful planning and design or you risk collecting meaningless data. As a market research expert helping healthcare clients, remember these best practices when creating patient surveys.

Clarify the Survey Purpose

The most important first step is getting very clear on why you need patient survey feedback and how leadership will use the results. Without a defined purpose and intended use for the data collected, you are survey drifting with no direction. Patient surveys take considerable planning, coordination, and effort. So before you expend resources on questionnaire development and administration, anchor the effort to a core purpose.

For example, do you need feedback about a new service, complaints about wait times, or overall satisfaction benchmarks? Understanding the purpose and intended use of results will lead to more meaningful questions. 

Prioritize Key Domains

Patient experience spans a wide range of domains – from clinical quality to staff friendliness, appointment access, billing, and more. It’s tempting to ask patients their perspectives on all aspects of their care journey. However, long surveys lead to survey fatigue, declining response rates, and participation from only the most motivated patients.

To keep surveys concise while still gathering meaningful data, laser focus on the 3-5 topics most critical to patient experience outcomes. Begin by examining existing indicators like complaints to reveal problem areas. Then pull together a small advisory team of patient advisors, clinicians, leaders, and administrators. Have this group review background data on potential areas of focus. Work together to prioritize key domains based on importance to patients, relevance to strategic goals, and feasibility for improvement.

Resist surveying on too many domains “just in case” useful data emerges. Place thoughtful boundaries around your scope and rigorously prioritize key metrics that matter most to patients and your improvement aims. Less is often more when it comes to actionable patient insights.

Use Strategic Question Wording

The exact wording of your survey questions can make or break the reliability of the results. Poorly worded questions fail to capture the patient perspective and skew results. Here are best practices in crafting patient-centered questions:

● Use simple, common language: Avoid complex medical jargon and instead use clear, everyday language patients easily relate to. For example, ask “How well did doctors communicate?” rather than “How sufficient was physician interpersonal articulation?”
● Keep questions short: Long, overly detailed questions can confuse. Narrow the focus to one key idea per question whenever possible. If you need elaboration, use introduction or append explanatory captions.
● Consider literacy levels: Tailor questions to a middle school reading level so they are simple and inclusive for all education levels. To expand accessibility, you can also offer an audio survey recording to accommodate poor readers.

Using the Right Survey Tool

The right survey instrument is structured to capture what you want to know and measure what you need. Some organizations choose to use established tools like the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) surveys. CAHPS surveys are rigorously developed and tested by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

However many organizations want to ask other questions or slightly different questions than these national surveys. Well-designed in-house surveys can still yield statistically valid results if proper methodological rules are followed – and the survey is brief, clear, and focused.

But how do you confirm that the survey is working properly before you spend time and money distributing, collecting, and analyzing data? You’ll want to test the survey itself.

Survey Testing

No one is perfect. You know how it goes – mistakes happen: misspellings, missing images, logic errors in routing questions. These mistakes can be costly if you don’t find them early enough. People tend to abandon surveys if they run into turbulence caused by these types of errors. Then you have incomplete data you can’t use. Using a dedicated tool to help you locate and correct those errors before you publish and distribute the survey’s link is essential. SurveyTester is just such a dedicated platform. It provides the functionality you need to find the mistakes – and fix them. Make the most of your opportunity to collect data from your audiences by removing issues before they see them.

Make Participation Easy

The longer and more difficult a survey is to complete, the fewer responses you will receive. Survey drop-off shoots up significantly after 15 minutes or 25 questions. If patients find the survey inconvenient to access or confusing to navigate, they simply will not participate. That’s why you should minimize participation friction. Keep survey length under 10 minutes with focused, concise questions. Allow flexibility in how patients can respond with options like short post-visit surveys, emailed survey links, patient portal links, and self-service kiosks in clinics. Have patient advisors pilot test completion on both computers and mobile devices, confirming ease of navigation. Lastly, use patient-friendly language and clear graphical interfaces. Your goal is crafting seamless surveys patients can quickly progress through at their convenience through their preferred access mode. Reduce the effort required to share perspectives, and more patients will respond.

Analyze Results and Improve

The true value of patient surveys comes from collecting insights that drive meaningful improvements. Too often, healthcare organizations administer surveys only to check a box without connecting results to tangible actions. To realize the full potential of surveys, build an analytics and action plan focused on two levels:

  • Macro Performance Benchmarks: Examine high-level metrics on patient experience and loyalty overall and for critical touch points like contact center calls or hospital discharges. How do results compare to past performance, competitor data, or national benchmarks? Share top-level metrics widely across the organization.
  • Micro Improvement Targets: Dig deeper into variations in performance across locations, clinician teams, patient segments, or service lines. Look for pockets of high performance to replicate as well as underperformance to address through focused interventions. Turn these micro insights into data-driven improvement initiatives sponsored by senior leaders.
  • Close the Loop: Feed metrics back to patient and family advisory councils for input on priorities. If possible, have multi-disciplinary improvement teams implement and refine actions. And report back to patients on changes implemented in response to their valued feedback.

Surveys only create value when seen as an integral input guiding continual efforts to understand and enhance what matters most to patients. Robust analysis, transparency on opportunities identified, and demonstrating responsive actions ultimately builds trust and engagement.

The Power of Insightful Patient Surveys

Well-designed patient surveys, paired with thoughtful analysis and follow-up, guide organizations toward more patient-centric care. They offer a 360-degree view of performance through the eyes of patients and families. While challenging, excellent questionnaires deliver data-driven insights to understand the patient perspective and enrich their healthcare journeys.

CTA: Need some help making the most of your online surveys? Let’s chat about SurveyTester.

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