Article Date: 9/1/2003

Survey Says: It's In the Execution
When done well, surveys improve your practice and bring you closer to patients.

You can't travel too far these days without running into a customer satisfaction survey. Interviewers chase consumers in shopping malls, reply cards come with virtually every new appliance and service companies (e.g., utilities, car repairs, etc.) follow up after appointments with phone calls. Yet judging from anecdotal evidence, it appears that many healthcare providers don't poll patients (with the exception of managed care concerns).

From concept to execution

The survey concept -- to find out what the patient wants most, deliver it and reap the rewards -- is sound, although many surveys wilt in the execution. Having worked with numerous research professionals, I can offer this advice regarding surveys:

It's what you don't know that's important. Many firms use surveys to reinforce what they already know. (If a practice has patients that regularly wait 45 minutes, does it need a survey to discover that it needs to see patients faster?) These firms use surveys as a crutch to justify action.

Worse, because they look for specific answers, these firms miss opportunities suggested by other survey responses. Keep an open mind.

Make the survey easy for patients. Most surveys arrive at bad times. A restaurant survey comes with your check, just as you're about to leave the restaurant. A telephone interviewer interrupts weekend activities at home. How valuable is information when it's collected under these conditions?

One solution is to first ask patients if your practice can solicit their feedback. Explain your reasons.

If the survey is in the form of a written questionnaire, offer patients the option of taking it home rather than filling out in the office where they may feel rushed or pressured. If you plan a phone interview, ask the patient for a convenient time to call. By making the process convenient, it's one more way patients will appreciate your practice.

Use patient surveys as a foundation for improvement. Some use surveys for advertising, as in, "Four out of five buyers say they will buy their next car from Lemon Motors." Others use surveys to point the finger or give praise. These uses aren't necessarily wrong, as long as they don't compromise the process of continuous improvement.

A cycle of improvement

A Surveys aren't a one-shot deal. Survey results suggest action. Once action is taken, the practice should measure effectiveness through a survey. These new survey results suggest action. And so on and so on.


Optometric Management, Issue: September 2003