The Problem with Patient Satisfaction Surveys Today

The Problem with Patient Satisfaction Surveys Today

Many medical practices use patient satisfaction surveys to improve the quality of their care; but how many succeed?

In this article, rater8 will take a close look into why some patient satisfaction surveys fall flat and fail to deliver value to medical practices.


What is a patient survey?

Medical practices use patient surveys to capture patient feedback. The patient surveys offer insight into the patient experience and perceived quality of care.


Why are patient surveys important?

Patient surveys identify the strength and shortcomings of a medical practice and its physicians. By collecting patient feedback, the patient surveys can be used to improve the operations and overall care provided to patients. Healthcare providers want patients to feel they are being treated with dignity, care, and attentiveness. For these reasons, health care organizations strive to understand the perspectives of their patients through patient satisfaction surveys.


What makes a patient survey effective?

I once left a dentist’s office and saw the following HappyOrNot sign, asking patients to rate their experience by clicking a smiley or frown face. 

My immediate reaction was: How is this useful? How is the data meaningful? And how can this be used to enhance the patient experience?

It can’t.

Imagine 50% of recorded responses said their experiences were terrible. The problem is that we don’t know specifically what contributed to their bad experience – what, specifically, about the visit was unsatisfactory? 

The question is simply too broad to be useful. The main takeaway is that patient satisfaction survey questions need to be specific to add value.


Press Ganey:

When it comes to hospitals, Press Ganey is the gold standard. But even the gold standard has its flaws.

After a doctor’s visit, I received a Press Ganey survey in the mail 3 weeks after my appointment! This survey contained 38 questions and required that I mail in my results. 

Let’s take a closer look at why this is ineffective.


Delivery Method:

It’s 2019 and email and texting technology should be used over snail mail. People check their phones and email constantly so either method will help you achieve higher response rates. Additionally, submitting your responses via text or email is instantaneous which is much more convenient than having to mail responses back. It’s important to think of ease of use; you don’t want to burden patients. 

For email and texting surveys, the surveys must be ergonomic and adapt to all mobile and desktop devices. Many patients will complete their surveys on a mobile phone so it’s important to have surveys specifically designed for vertical mobile phone screens. This includes large buttons, doctor and staff photos, images relating to each survey question, and large, easy to read fonts.  

Practices spend heavily on their websites and office decorating to create a positive impression for patients.  The last impression the patient has of an office visit is the survey where a positive impression is essential.

Below is an example of an effective online, mobile-friendly survey. 



Delivery Window:

Oftentimes, Press Ganey surveys don’t arrive until weeks after the visit. By this point, the experience is no longer fresh in patients’ minds. It’s too late to capture the true patient experience and this is why Press Ganey response rates are in the low single digits. The goal is to deliver these surveys in real-time. 

Why are real-time surveys so important? 

  • If a patient receives a survey via text or email within a few minutes of check-out, they are far more likely to share their experience.
  • Real-time surveys also have the benefit of mitigating 1 and 2-star ratings on online review sites. 
  • Most importantly, immediate feedback is important for service recovery. Unhappy patients are impressed when a practice staff member reaches out to the patient the same day as the exam to turn the unhappy patient into a happy and engaged one. Service recovery is even more effective when the survey software specifically asks unhappy patients if they want to be contacted by a manager. For larger, multi-office group practices, an effective survey workflow is built into the survey software that routes feedback for unhappy patients to the manager overseeing each office location.


Quality and Number of Questions:

Who has the time and energy to sit down and answer a 40+ question survey? If most people see a lengthy survey, their immediate reaction will be to throw that survey out or delete it.  Surveys should be succinct and the questions should be targeted. Respect patients’ time with short surveys (no more than 5 questions). Rather than asking generic questions like “How was your visit?”, ask more specific questions such as “How was your experience with Dr. Smith” or “How was your check-in experience with Susan?” By capturing data specifically for providers and staff, practice leadership will receive valuable insight into the performance of their teams. 

There are many facets of a practice where feedback is needed (e.g., physician interaction, clinical staff, check-in experience, billing experience, waiting room time, office cleanliness, etc.). A patient-friendly survey system will never ask all questions on each survey – it will choose a few questions at random for each survey.  The result is that over thousands of surveys sent, all questions will be answered and the practice will have the data they need about each facet of their practice, but no patient will ever be burdened by a long survey. 

Hospital, airline, and hotel surveys are notorious for being long. As a result, these surveys have high non-completion rates.  Customers get ‘survey fatigue’.

Survey fatigue can also happen when patients are bombarded with surveys. Ensure that your survey system is sophisticated enough so that follow-up patients are not sent surveys for the same provider for a defined period of time after the initial survey is received (e.g. 90 days).

The survey should make it clear to patients that all feedback provided is anonymous and confidential.  If patients are concerned that their identity will be known, they are much less likely to provide candid feedback – reducing the value of the feedback collected.

Above, we’ve highlighted key challenges of popular patient satisfaction surveys for healthcare practice administrators.

Capturing patient feedback is vital for any medical practice. If done correctly, it’ll help not only to enhance your online reputation, but also to improve the overall patient experience and delivery of care.