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MANAGING THE OFFICE

Are your patients happy? Here’s how to find out

Monitoring the pulse of patient satisfaction is crucial to the health of your practice.

Indeed, patient satisfaction can mean the difference between a thriving, profitable practice and one that’s barely breaking even. And since patients have a significant effect on the work environment, their satisfaction impacts your staff’s morale.

In order to accurately assess patient satisfaction, you have to measure the practice’s performance. This can be done by surveying your patients.

CAHPS surveys

Depending on the size of your practice, as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) you may be required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to administer Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) patient surveys as part of the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS).

Participation in the PQRS program and survey administration is currently required if a practice has 100 or more healthcare providers. In 2017, more practices will be affected as that requirement changes to 10 or more providers.

However, any practice can take advantage of CAHPS survey instruments, which are available online at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: https://cahps.ahrq.gov/

Among reasons to use CAHPS, even if not required, is that it provides a consistent survey tool, says Valerie Sipe, project manager CAHPS for The Jackson Group, a company founded in 1976 that provides employee and patient satisfaction surveys and is a certified CAHPS vendor.

Deciding to survey

So, how does a practice that has never surveyed patients begin?

Practices that conduct patient surveys usually have a target area they want to focus on, such as admission or how much time a physician got to spend with patients, Sipe tells Medical Office Manager.

Yet, even though a practice may begin with a goal, goals can change, says Janette Jones, director of patient satisfaction services for The Jackson Group.

“Most tend to go with a goal in mind, but they don’t want to assume,” she explains. An example of a goal is, “We want to find out why we’re not getting new patients.”

Perhaps surprisingly, practices that survey don’t usually do so in response to problems.

“We have some really proactive office managers and physicians,” Jones says. “They know that patient satisfaction is part of a successful practice, and they want to make sure they are doing the right things and doing them in the right way.”

Individual practices survey their patients, and practices with multiple facilities conduct surveys to find out how perceptions might vary from location to location.

“You do sometimes find that people are surprised at the results,” Jones says.

Mistakes, misperceptions, and misconceptions

And what are the biggest mistakes practices make with regard to surveying patients?

“Waiting until they have angry patients,” Sipe says. “You want to be proactive.”

“Or waiting until someone tells you, you have to do a survey,” Jones says.

Another issue has to do with the implications of not surveying. “If patients aren’t asked, the perception is they [practice staff] don’t care,” Jones says.

Frequency of surveys, meanwhile, is an area with misconceptions. There is no standard for how often a practice should survey patients. In a clinic setting, for example, it depends on how many return patients there are in a month; in this kind of setting, surveying every six months might be ideal.

“If there is a revolving base of patients, consistency is best,” Jones says.

But some practices survey every time a patient comes into the office.

Do patients mind the paperwork?

“It depends on methodology, and how they do it,” Jones says. Although lengthier surveys are still used, scorecards are becoming more common, she tells Medical Office Manager.

Survey process

Practices conduct patient surveys in a number ways: in writing, at the time of office visit; in writing by mail; online; and by telephone.

Deciding how to survey, what kind of survey to use, and what questions to ask all have the potential to impact survey results.

“How you phrase the questions determines the quality of data you get back,” Jones explains.

She also cautions that, “One-size-fits-all is not appropriate for all practice settings.”

And she further advises, “Don’t ask the question if you don’t plan to do anything about it.”

When it comes to analyzing survey responses, Jones tells Medical Office Manager that the interpretation of data should not be left up to office staff because they might not understand what the data is telling them.

Interpretation of data, of course, is the point of surveying; Jones points out that it helps a practice effectively action-plan.

Going it alone also opens up the possibility that office staff may pre-select patients for surveying in order to obtain more favorable results. This is yet another reason to enlist the assistance of a survey vendor.

In addition, a survey vendor can help determine what form of survey is best for your organization.

Sipe tells Medical Office Manager that among The Jackson Group’s medical practice clients that are not required to survey, approximately 50 percent use customized surveys and the other half use CAHPS surveys that are sometimes modified slightly to accommodate practice needs.

Jones offers medical practices that are contemplating patient surveys this advice: “Decide what you want to measure; decide how you’re going to use the data – what steps are you going to take; and reach out to a vendor to find out what form of survey is best for your organization.”

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