To Survey or Not - Do you have the bandwidth to care?
Have you been using patient satisfaction surveys? Having been on both sides of the process, it’s understandable why you wouldn’t. It seems like patients themselves don’t care about the survey, and if they do, the limited data may skew the results. I think all of us at one point in time or another have breezed through a survey, selecting answers without reading, simply to “get it over with,” and that’s what we want to avoid.
What might seem like an unreliable hassle is actually one of the most important tools you can have when it comes to patient retention rates and improving your practice. Regardless of your office specialty, patient satisfaction surveys provide an insight into your demographic’s thoughts and feelings. They are also a proactive way to improve relationships and reassure your patients. And even at the base level of emotion, it feels good when someone cares enough to ask your opinion.
If you want to properly utilize this tool, it’s important to prepare and ask yourself some questions first.
To start, what are you measuring? Some potential problems and questions are obvious, but others might require more discussion among your office. Is your patient intake process a little on the slow side? Is follow-up information communicated clearly? Your office staff will often spend more time with the patient than you, so getting their feedback in formulating the survey is crucial.
Once you understand what you might be looking for, you need to create the survey itself. Although you want to gather as much information as possible, the best advice you can get is to keep it short and simple. If you send your patients dozens of lengthy questions, you aren’t going to get many full, or accurate responses.
The design and format should be tailored to accurately assess the information you’re looking for. Asking a few ‘Scale of 1 to 5’ ratings will get you a general outline, but you might want to change it up where appropriate. The ‘Agree’ to ‘Disagree’ scale can feel like a stronger emotional connection than just arbitrary numbers, while star ratings are quickly recognized and simple. You may even have a question or two that asks for written responses. Again, shorter surveys mean more true responses that are submitted, so the written responses should only be a question or two, but you’ll be surprised how that changes your results to that question, or the overall survey.
Ease of access is another point to consider when creating your survey. If the patient needs specific writing instrument such as a blue/black pen, or a #2 pencil and then must mail in a form, you’re severely limiting the outcome. Soon after an appointment, a text-message-based survey is invaluable for providing a quick and easy way for a patient to give honest & immediate feedback. A smartphone is always on a person, and with a brief survey , you’ll get plenty of great feedback from just a few texts.
Finally, understand the limitations of the survey. We just went over all the good a patient satisfaction survey can do, but they are not silver bullets to fix your practice. They always have a margin of error. Was there a time you were late to a few appointments due to personal issues? Then you know you might get a few negative responses for that time period, especially if you are asking about an experience in a waiting or exam room, or something that specifically references some of those office anomalies. That’s not to say you can ignore the negative responses entirely, but it does take a discerning mind to sift out genuine criticism from an upset patient lashing out through feedback forms.
Self-improvement for your practice and for yourself is necessary to grow as a business, and as a person. You can’t do that if you don’t understand why your patients are unsatisfied with their appointments.
It will take a little more effort and investment to perform patient satisfaction surveys, and you might think you don’t have the time to do it. But I have a quick survey for you: