Have you been using patient surveys to evaluate satisfaction, or are you still a survey skeptic? Are you not yet convinced that patient satisfaction surveys and the feedback you get from them are effective, reliable, or even useful? Do you feel like they are too time-consuming to be worth the hassle? The truth is that patient satisfaction surveys are important for physician offices—regardless of your specialty.
Some concerns about surveys may be legitimate, but there are tricks that will make patient surveys as simple as they are valuable.
It goes without saying that asking someone for their opinion shows, at the very least, that you care about what they think. Reaching out to your patients to get feedback on their experience in your office shows them–and the community–that you’re interested in quality-of-care as well as your patients as individuals. It also demonstrates that you are continually looking for ways to improve your practice and the patient experience you provide. And more and more, patient satisfaction and patient surveys are playing a role in reimbursement.
In order to retain your patients and consistently acquire new ones, it is critical to make sure your patients feel appreciated and satisfied. The best way to ensure the highest level of patient satisfaction is to ask questions.
Best ways to use survey feedback
You likely understand that the feedback you get from surveys is just a glimpse at how your patients feel about you and your staff. What you do with that feedback is what will have the biggest impact on your practice. Use the feedback to:
- Plan improvement projects
- Set goals for your practice quarterly, yearly, etc. in order to continue taking your service to a new level and ensure maximum productivity and profitability
- Recognize the superstars in your office who always guarantee that things run efficiently and smoothly
- Benchmark success by comparing surveys from the next quarter/year/etc.
Although your goals and improvements stem from the ways your practice can stand to improve, don’t forget to celebrate success along the way! While your improvement projects will focus on areas of weakness, make sure you also celebrate the ways your team members go above and beyond the call of duty. Perhaps you could incorporate special staff recognition awards, or even highlight your small but significant successes in your patient education for your patients to see and acknowledge.
Selecting the Best Patient Satisfaction Survey Questions
The concept of surveying is simple, but measuring patient satisfaction requires more than just asking a few random questions. Experts say the process needs to be well thought out, from the way you ask questions to the way you respond to your patients’ feedback.
According to Kevin Sullivan, surveys are typically geared towards the following areas:
- Quality of care
- Access to care and communication
- Patient satisfaction–including relationships with staff and provider (courtesy of the receptionist and business staff, care from nurses and medical assistants, clarity of instructions from the provider, etc.)
Use consistent scales. The majority of questions on a patient satisfaction survey should be answered using a scale. Popular options here include 10-point scales, five point scales ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”, and four-point scales (which force a sided response).
“The most generally used and accepted scale that you’ll see quoted in the literature and utilized by the NCQA is the five-point scale,” says A.C. Myers, president of The Myers Group, an Atlanta-based firm specializing in health care surveys and data analysis. He advocates a five-point scale that ranges from “excellent” to “poor.”
The most important thing, he says, is to “...use a consistent scale. You don’t want to use a four-point scale on some questions and a five-point scale on others because then you can’t compare the results.”
Word questions carefully. Choose questions carefully, or your survey won’t give you the information you really need to make significant improvements. “The last thing you want to do is sit around with the staff in the practice, hammer out a few questions, hand it out to a couple hundred patients and base major decisions on the responses you get back,” said Jerry Seibert, president of Parkside Associates Inc., a health care survey research firm in Park Ridge, Ill.
Survey questions should be brief, to the point, and easy to understand. Studies show that your entire survey shouldn't take more about five minutes to complete. This means your questions need to be quick and easy to understand. “You want to avoid asking biased, vague or double-barreled questions” (those that actually incorporate two or more questions), explains Myers. Be specific in order to know exactly what’s required to bring your practice to the next level in order to keep your patients coming back.
Examples of Patient Satisfaction Survey Questions by Category
- How satisfied are you with the level of care you are receiving by our providers and staff?
- How attentive, caring and understanding do you feel our staff and physicians are?
- How soon are you able to be seen when you call to schedule an appointment?
- What is your preferred avenue for requesting an appointment? (i.e. Call in, email or text, social media, portal, etc)
Improve health outcomes
- Are you aware of our Continuing Care Campaigns? If so, which one(s) are you currently enrolled in? How helpful do you find them?
- How helpful do you find our recare messaging for ensuring you return for your regular care appointments?
- How satisfied are you with our level of patient communication? ( i.e timely returned calls, reminder messages, practice newsletters)
- Overall, how would you rate your most recent experience in our office?
Include open-ended questions. Of course, it’s all fine and good to know how you stack up on a scale, but it’s most important to find out why your patients rated you as they did.
To gather more constructive and detailed criticism about your service and your patient’s experience, make sure to include in each section an open-ended question where the patient can openly express ways in which their experience could have been improved. Then, at your next staff meeting, you can discuss how to incorporate their feedback to bring your service to the next level.
Examples of good open-ended questions would be:
- What do you like best about our practice?
- What are we doing especially well?
- What can we do to improve?
While direct and detailed responses aren’t easy to measure, the feedback will bring meaning to some of your scores. “On your scaled questions, you’re going to find out you’re, say, a 4.2 out of 5. The verbatim responses will help you understand what is behind that score,” says Myers. “It’s pretty powerful to see exactly what some of your patients are saying about you.”
Don’t forget doctor interactions in your patient survey questions
Sometimes we get so caught up in asking about wait times and staff friendliness, that some patient surveys forget to focus on quality care. Here are a few specific questions you would be wise to ask your patients about the quality of care you are giving and their overall satisfaction with you as their provider:
- How well do you feel the doctor listens to your health concerns?
- How thorough do you feel his/her explanations and instructions for care are?
- How well do you feel the doctor takes time to answer your questions?
- How satisfied are you with the amount of time the doctors spend with you?
By asking questions like these, it will be very clear where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and what actions deserve to be taken in order to improve your patients’ experiences during their future visits.
Fully Leveraging Your Patient Satisfaction Questionnaires
There are ways to use patient satisfaction surveys for more than just answers. Here are 3 simple tricks to maximize the impact of patient satisfaction surveys for physician offices and bring your practice to new heights:
- Improve your online presence
When your patients respond positively on your survey but haven’t left any sort of review, reach out personally and ask them if they would be willing to share their great experience online. Did you know that studies have found that 71% of consumers would leave a review if asked? This boost to your online presence should be a fundamental part of your practice marketing.
- Acquire new patient referrals
Give your patients the opportunity (and perhaps an incentive) to refer their friends and family members to your practice. Relying on them to proactively spread the word about how great or family-friendly your practice is doesn’t often prove an adequate means of generating referrals.Make sure your survey includes a ways to refer a friend. This can be as simple as a link. You can then use that information to reach out to the referred patients with a special offer for visiting your practice.
- Build patient relationships
Not only are surveys are a great tool for finding out how your office can improve, but they are a great way to get to know your patients on a more personal level. By engaging your patients through surveys, you will be better able to assess a patient’s confidence in themselves to be proactive about their health and accomplish their personal goals.
If you ask the right questions, you can find out what their short and long term health goals are and discuss ways you can assist them in accomplishing these goals. By utilizing this tool to open up the lines of communication, you will build greater trust and patient loyalty.
If you find your patients aren’t engaging in your surveys as much as you would like, try offering a small incentive to your patients as a thank you for their valuable feedback (such as a coupon for services or products you many offer).
Knowledge is most definitely power. Discovering how satisfied your patients are and what you deserve to know to improve their experience and your service is your key to growth and long term success.
We’re excited for you! Happy surveying!
On your patient survey journey, you may also want to check out free checklist, "10 Steps to the Perfect Patient Survey."