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  • Practice Management

Surveys: How, when, why


Surveying patients and referral sources can provide surprising feedback and ideas as well as alert practice leaders to needed change. With these best practice tips you can survey like a pro and get results that guide practice decisions for a bright future!

Surveys are a valuable resource for practices that want to remain competitive. In fact, in a recent report, 80% of the “better-performing” practices said they use patient satisfaction surveys to gauge practice performance.[1]

READ: Physicians should embrace electronic prescribing

By assessing approval ratings, these practices gain insight into how patients view their practices in terms of wait times, appointment availability, quality of care, and other vital areas. Surveying patients can also provide direction for major practice decisions, like adding a service line, changing locations, expanding hours or bringing on a new provider.  

Surveying referral sources expresses your commitment to excellence to those practices and physicians that entrust their patients to you. It’s easy to make assumptions, but asking patients and referring practices what they want, and what they do or don’t like, will help you make informed, data-driven decisions with better outcomes.

Reasons for resistance

One reason some practices resist implementing a survey tool is the assumption that their patients or referral sources are perfectly happy; they are doing a great job and don’t need to ask. It’s human nature to make assumptions, especially when we are trying our best, but practice insiders don’t encounter the business from the mindset or position of the patient or referring practice. This blind spot can distort perception and make it difficult to provide an exceptional service.

READ: The importance of patient loyalty

If you’re concerned about the time and effort it will require to conduct a survey, try implementing a short and targeted survey to a smaller target demographic-like top referrers or new patients. Get comfortable compiling results and responding before taking on a larger survey.

Online email survey tools from companies like Survey Monkey and Constant Contact make implementation quick and inexpensive. If you need live tech support, Constant Contact has over-the-phone assistance to walk you through the process and have you surveying like a pro in no time.

NEXT: Best practices


Best practices

Some of the most attractive reasons for using surveys are affordability, the ability to re-measure frequently, and the ability to gain feedback on specific topics.

READ: How to fire a problem patient

Here are some best practice tips to get you started:

  • Provide perspective. It’s important to explain to staff that surveys are not something to fear and that negative feedback is not going to cost them their jobs, especially if they are helping to implement the survey. They will need to express to participants how valued and welcomed the feedback is. Create a culture that embraces feedback as an opportunity to become better.

  • Keep it anonymous. Use an online survey provider, your practice management system’s portal, or a mail-back survey, but give participants the freedom to be totally honest without concern of being associated with a complaint. You want to know the truth: that’s where the value is.

  • Make it short.  Focus your survey on a specific topic such as referral satisfaction or a proposed change or addition. Ask only a handful of questions and provide space for comments. This will encourage participation and garner more honest feedback.

  • Force an opinion. Provide an even number of choices, such as two positive and two negative. In other words, if you want to have information you can take action from avoid a neutral response option.

  • Value the truth.  Express to patients how valuable you feel their opinion is and that your practice is looking for ways to improve. Looking for accolades or fearing negative feedback will not provide the data you need to improve.

  • Respond to feedback. Asking for feedback and ignoring it can be more harmful than not asking at all. Let participants know when you intend to respond to their suggestions and then follow through. Always thank participants any way you can: a small gift or a thank-you email go a long way.

Top practices embrace patient feedback because they know it’s a measurement they can’t ignore, with the shifting focus of healthcare being on value and some payers tying reimbursements to such indicators.

READ: Are your assets exposed?

Surveys can provide valuable insight and creative suggestions directly from those you serve and those who can make or break your practice. Not only does this insight empower you to make data-driven change, it can also help you avoid costly mistakes.


1 MGMA Performance and Practices of Successful Medical Groups; www.healthitoutcomes.com/doc/almost-percent-better-performers-conduct-patient-satisfaction-0001

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