How to do online patient surveys
Crunching the numbers can provide meaningful feedback for staff.
By Clayton Grinage
Clayton Grinage is COE and practice administrator at Matossian Eye Associates in Doylestown, Pa., and Hamilton and Pennington, N.J. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
Just as a successful singer or athlete strives to deliver that top performance for the paying customer who may be catching the act for the first time, a top-flight ophthalmology practice must ensure its patients the best treatment and service to make sure they return.
At Matossian Eye Associates we try to give every patient the best possible experience on every encounter to ensure they return and recommend our practice to friends and family.
A key component to our continued growth — we have 35,000 active patients visiting our three offices in Doylestown, Pa., where we recently moved to a larger office in the same office park as the previous office, and Hamilton and Pennington, N.J., the latter of which is also a new, larger office — is our reliance on patient satisfaction surveys.
LESSONS FROM HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY
My experience with surveys goes back to my days as an assistant manager for Hyatt Regency hotels in Houston and Columbus, Ohio. In those hotels, we used customer surveys to determine what guests liked and didn’t like to help improve our overall service.
What I learned in the hotel industry, where customer service is the name of the game, was that if guests responded to a survey and they were happy, they were very, very happy. And if they were unhappy, we tried to identify the reason for their dissatisfaction and address the underlying problem.
The experience convinced me of the powerful information that patient satisfaction surveys can harness. When I transitioned into work with medical practices, I found out again how vital surveys are.
We implemented patient satisfaction surveys at our three offices with a total of 12 doctors. For my first two years at Matossian Eye Associates, we used an outside pre-established survey tool through an independent vendor. The one-size-fits-all questionnaire included questions on topics not applicable to our practice.
To obtain more specific information, and to avoid confusing our patients about services the practice did not offer, we decided to customize and personalize the survey. Moreover, we also felt the best way to continue to provide outstanding customer service was to compete against our own high standards rather than be compared to national averages.
DOING THE (SURVEY)MONKEY
Enter SurveyMonkey, a Web site that allows users to create surveys. I like its design, setup, deployment and reporting, which move us toward our goal of getting snapshots of how patients perceive their experiences. From those perceptions, we can identify common concerns, invite feedback, engage patients, focus on problems and gain insight into what they value most.
Using SurveyMonkey in our drive to pinpoint both strengths and weaknesses of the practice, we came up with 10 questions we e-mail to patients on the same day of their visits. Our goal is to make the surveys as easy as possible. We attach a picture of the physician with whom the patient had the appointment as a reminder. The survey takes no more than five minutes to complete.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
Our patient survey questions focus on the following subjects:
• Satisfaction with the response received when making an appointment.
• The level of helpfulness and courtesy upon arrival at the office.
• Satisfaction in terms of time spent in the reception area and examining room before seeing the doctor.
• Technician’s level of courtesy and professionalism.
• Physician’s level of professionalism and courtesy.
• Quality of medical care the doctor provided.
• Doctor’s perceived competence.
• Quality of responses from billing and insurance staffers.
• Overall experience with the practice.
• Additional comments box to capture feedback from our patients.
That last component of the survey proved the biggest winner in the process, which typically yields a 35% response rate. Surprise comments are often the most valuable, which is the rationale for the one open-ended question. Although survey responses tend to be overwhelmingly positive, it’s the negative comments that teach us the most.
COMPLAINT NO. 1: WAIT TIMES
Even I brood when I feel I’m kept waiting too long as a patient in a doctor’s office, so, not surprisingly, the most common complaints our surveys yielded involve wait times. In our experience, these complaints often result from unrealistic patient assumptions.
These gripes (down 60% since we started using the survey) caused us to implement better communication practices to educate patients about expectations.
While some patients complain about how long they’ve waited before seeing a doctor, the reality is that, before they see the physician, they must undergo multiple steps. We realized it was our responsibility to educate them about these processes.
Without this awareness, patients did not understand the lag time between their work-up by the technician and examination by the physician. Thanks to the survey responses, we now take an active role in educating patients on the exam process and providing them with a realistic expectation of their appointment duration.
Matossian Eye Associates’ postvisit surveys include a picture of the attending physician as a reminder to patients.
HOW WE USE THE RESULTS
Our leadership team (which includes our CFO, billing and office managers and myself) discuss the survey results during our weekly managers’ meeting. We have a process of taking care of issues raised in the patient responses.
We use an action log to delegate problem areas to specific individuals to resolve and address. All negative remarks go into the action log to ensure not only a prompt corrective action, but also a means of followup over time.
We read all positive and negative comments aloud during our monthly staff meetings unless the negative comment was directed at a specific person. Then we share these comments privately with the identified staffer.
From the positive responses, we select the best and use them for testimonials on our Web site. Sharing the comments from our patients with all of our staff has proven to be extremely helpful: Now our staff realizes the importance of their roles and how observant our patients are of their actions.
And now, here’s my testimonial: Patient surveys, when you take the time to come up with the right questions and develop an effective follow-up protocol, are invaluable tools to ensure the continued success of your practice because perception, when it comes to keeping patients happy, is reality. OM