Why can’t satisfaction surveys just keep it short and sweet?

Customer satisfaction surveys are all the rage these days in every industry. Healthcare is a late entry into this arena, as reimbursements have only relatively recently started being tied to “patient satisfaction” and the “healthcare experience”. These surveys, known in the industry as HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems), aren’t without many critics in the healthcare industry. Skeptics are quick to point out that the assessments may have some inherent biases in them, and are very difficult for institutions to get high scores on. Nevertheless, the idea of improving the “service” in healthcare is a laudable goal, as long as it is set in the reality of the industry.

The HCAHPS survey itself is comprised of a total of 32 questions—fairly typical for most customer service assessments these days. The problem however with surveys, in all service sectors, is that we make them way too long and complicated, thereby greatly discouraging participation. We’ve all probably experienced this: You get an online link via email for some product or service you’ve purchased, or even a telephone call, and what you think will be a very quick process, turns out to be anything but. Questions become more questions, and the topics of interest become more narrow and specific. Before long, you’ve lost interest and either fail to complete the survey, or just mindlessly rush through it to get it over with!

What is it with this flawed bureaucratic way of thinking? Why does the corporate world allow the influence of market science to make things excessively arduous?

Why can we not just have 3 simple questions, answered either in text format, or on a 1-10 scale:

1.How do you rate your service?

2.What were you most satisfied with (please specify)?

3.Were you dissatisfied with anything (please specify)?

If you want to be more specific about aspects of the service, perhaps at the most 2 more questions. Short, sweet and simple. Watch the response rate skyrocket. If necessary, contact people afterwards for more details on what they did not like. I know this isn’t what your “market science” might say and you feel the need to extract as much data as possible, but people are busy and nobody wants an inquisition after being your customer. For heavens sake, do not have any survey that takes more than a couple of minutes at most to complete!

Suneel Dhand is a physician, author, speaker and healthcare consultant. He has experience in a number of different healthcare environments, having worked up and down the East coast and also internationally. His specialty areas include hospital QI, optimizing healthcare IT, and improving the patient experience. He is the author of 3 books, including most recently “The Ultimate Patient Advocate in Your Pocket”, designed to help hospitalized patients. He is also the founder of HealthITImprove, an organization dedicated to improving and optimizing information technology at the frontlines of healthcare.

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