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Filling out a questionnaire

Patient satisfaction surveys are often the reason why one healthcare provider performs better than another. But using patient satisfaction surveys in an effective way takes more than just asking patients for their opinion and feedback.

How can you benefit the most from your patient survey data? How do you determine what questions to ask? And how do get the best response rate possible?

We will walk you through the proces of patient satisfaction surveys. And how they can help you improve performance in your healthcare organization.

Step 1: Determine the purpose of your survey

The majority of healthcare institutions are aware of the value of patient satisfaction surveys. Therefore, many of them have some form of a patient survey in place. But this does not mean they are surveying patients in the right way. Many care providers survey patients without knowing why they are actually collecting this data. Or what they plan on using the responses for. An incredible waste of valuable data.

To avoid this, think about what you want to do with the information you collect. Before you randomly start sending out surveys. Making a plan beforehand and deciding what you hope to achieve, will make coming up with the right questions for your survey easier as well.

The right questions

Determining what topics you want to cover in your patient survey will help you pick beneficial questions. If you have never done a patient satisfaction survey before, it might be a good idea to start with a general survey. This will give you insights about the overall patient opinion. When you are looking at doing a general patient survey, do make sure you get feedback on all areas of your organization. Including interaction with the care staff and physician.

Or you could decide to address a specific topic. Maybe you are aware of a problem area within your care organization. Patient surveys will tell you how patients would solve the issue. In this case, keep your questions centered around the issue at hand. That way you will receive the most valuable information. But keep in mind, don’t ask questions around problems you are unable or unwilling to change.

There are many more reasons and goals for patient satisfaction surveys. But to get the most out of your patient survey results, make sure you determine the purpose of the survey and tailor the survey questions to the purpose.

Step 2: Form your questions

No one likes the thought of having to fill out five pages filled with questions. To keep your response rate high, limit not only the amount of questions but the amount of pages as well. Limit your survey to a two-sided, one page form with no more than ten questions.

Open and closed questions

Also think about the type of questions you’re asking. Research shows the best results come from surveys using a 75/25 ratio. This means 75% should be scaling/rating questions and 25% should be open ended questions.

When you are asking patients to rate a service or a part of your care organization, keep the scale simple and clear. Don’t offer more than a five-point rating scale. Five points give patients enough options to clarify their opinion without becoming overwhelmed. Also keep the names of scale points specific. This will help you get clear results in the end.

Simple language

Finally, review your patient satisfaction survey after the draft stage. Read through it carefully, maybe even test it out on some patients. Make sure they understand the questions and the rating scales. And be careful with using too much medical language or fancy words. Remember patients are filling out the survey for you. Don’t make it too hard on them or they might not fill it out at all or quit half way through.

Step 3: Distribute your patient survey

So you have given your patient satisfaction survey hours of thought. You have created the perfect patient survey that will help you reach your goal and improve performance. But how do you get your well crafted survey in the hands of your patients? Do you e-mail them out? Or are you going old school and printing them out on a piece of paper?

The answer is both.

Just think about your patients.

Your healthcare organization will probably see many different kinds of patients. Old and young and in different situations. What might work for one patient, might not work for the other. To get the most results out of your survey, you want to ensure your survey actually reaches your patients.

Think about what would work for your patients. Maybe you can give patients a paper survey when they leave your care facility and e-mail them in addition? Or you can even add a third way in the form of direct mail. That way patients can choose how they would like to fill out your patient satisfaction survey. Coming up with the best way to distribute your patient survey can take some time. Paper surveys generally have a higher response rate than online surveys, but they are more costly to manage.

There is no wrong way to hand out your patient survey. Just try to work out what works for your organization.

Step 4: Set realistic response rate goals

No one is under the illusion that 100% of your patients will fill out your patient satisfaction survey. In fact, this is probably not even close to the response rate you will receive.

To prevent disappointment make sure your response rate goals are realistic. Aim for a response rate anywhere between 10 and 20% across all distribution methods you use. Sending out your patient survey through different methods will benefit your response rate, but it does mean you have to combine all methods when setting your response goals.

Response rate and making changes

A response rate of 10 to 20% is not just a nice number. It’s also what you need for your results to be statistically significant. Imagine getting surveys back and making changes based on your patients’ input. You need to know a large amount of your patients agree on the changes before your make them. Otherwise you might as well not have done the patient survey at all.

Patient satisfaction surveys are there to find out what the general opinion of your patients is. If your response rate is too low, you still don’t know your patients’ general opinion.

Another way to make sure your response rate is as high as it could possibly be, is to not overload your patientswith surveys. Send out no more than one or two surveys per year to keep patients engaged.

Step 5: Make improvements

So you have gotten some really good results back from your patient satisfaction survey. Great! Now you can work towards improving your healthcare organization.

The Reviewer

First determine who will review the results of the patient survey. This should probably not be someone who gets reviewed in the survey, like a lead doctor. Instead pick someone who can review the results of the survey objectively. You want someone who will be receptive to the feedback and really look at the organization critically.

Once the results have been reviewed, try to then involve staff from all levels. Get feedback and input from them as well and combine that feedback with your patients’ feedback. That way you know everyone is on board and ready to make your organization better.

Quick changes first

When you have clarified what changes should be made, start making them a few at a time. Focus on changes that directly impact the patient experience first. Changes that can be made quickly and easily and are very visible to patients. Maybe patients have trouble finding the right phone number for their doctor. Change the contact page on your website and quickly fix the issue.

After making the quick and visible changes, start focusing on the changes that require some more investigation and preparation.

Step 6: Tell your patients about your progress

You have asked patients for a favor – filling out your patient satisfaction survey. The worst thing you can do is not communicating what you have done with their input. Or even worse, having the problem still be there the next time they visit your care facility.

Show off what you have done with the valuable feedback you received. Post it on your website and on social media. Provide information in the waiting or exam room or make announcements in hold messages. Make sure patients feel listened to and appreciated. This will eventually even get you more feedback on your next patient survey.

3 Questions to always include in your Patient Satisfaction Survey

Finally three ideas for open ended questions that can really benefit your healthcare organization.

1. Would you recommend us to family or friends?

This will help you find out the level of trust they have in your organization.

2. What could we have done better?

Get to the sore spot and make improvements that would benefit your patients’ experience.

3. What else would you like to tell us about?

Maybe your questions don’t cover everything patients want to talk about. An open question like this might give you new insights you weren’t expecting.