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I wrote last week about methods for monitoring patient satisfaction in your practice. Not surprisingly, one of the best ways to find out how you're doing is to ask the patients! In this article I'll describe a patient survey method I've used for many years and share some of the nuances I've learned.
The patient survey card
Rather than conduct a large mailing project to survey patients every five or ten years, I decided to ask every patient we see to give us feedback on an ongoing basis. I receive 40 to 50 completed survey cards per week in the mail and I read every one and share them with my staff.
We hand each patient a postage-paid survey card with their receipt when they check out after the exam or at dispensing if they ordered glasses. The staff member tells the patient that the cards are very important to us and we would truly appreciate their help if they would take a few seconds to complete and return it.
Keep it simple
One reason for the success of this program and for the high return rate is that the survey is short and simple. It only takes about 5 seconds to complete.
It's important to make the name optional, since people are more likely to voice a complaint anonymously. I like having a space for the name to encourage people to provide it if they don't mind.
I like to use the U.S. mail for these survey cards because everyone can participate so easily. The postage should be prepaid so all the patient has to do is drop it in a mailbox. Using a drop box in the office to deposit the cards would save postage costs, but most people won't take the time to complete the card while in the office and they have concerns if it is truly anonymous. Online surveys are tempting and we will eventually adopt that use of technology, but for now I still prefer the personal touch of handing out the cards and letting people write in their response.
Here is a sample of the card I use. The survey questions were originally designed by a good friend, Terry Hawks, OD of Overland Park, KS.
Office Evaluation Card
We would appreciate your assistance in completing the following questions in order to help us better serve your eye care needs.
1. Was our staff courteous and helpful?
2. Were you seen in a timely manner?
3. Was your examination thorough?
4. Were you satisfied with the explanation of your visual conditions and treatment options?
5. If fit with contact lenses or glasses, did the service and quality meet
6. Would you refer a friend to our office for eye care?
7. How would you rate your overall satisfaction with our office? ____________
Name (optional)_____________________________________ Date___________
THANK YOU FOR YOUR ASSISTANCE
I have to tell you a funny, but true, story about these evaluation cards. I once gave an optometrist friend an actual card from my office so he could use it to make his own for use in his practice. He gave the card to his office manager with the instructions to have 1,000 made up at their print shop. The cards were delivered to his office and when he turned them over to look at the flip side, they were all printed with Gailmard Eye Center as the addressee!
You want to cover the cost of postage for cards that are returned to you, but you certainly don't want to put stamps on all the cards handed out since many will be discarded. That is exactly what business reply mail is designed for. Ask about it at your local post office, but basically you obtain a permit to preprint a specific postal service indicia and bar code on the address side of the post card. You also prepay into an account that is held by the postal service and they deduct the postage cost each time a card is delivered to you. As your account runs low on funds, the postal service will deliver a reminder to you to remit more. It works great.
Some recent quotes
The open comment section is often the most revealing part of the survey and about half the patients take the time to jot down some comments. They often mention a staff member or a doctor by name, such as “my technician, Betty, was great with my son and his new contact lenses.” Personalized comments always provide a good morale boost for staff and give us an opportunity to recognize good work.
Here is a comment a patient wrote on a card that I received two weeks ago (honest!): “On a scale of 1 to 10 you are a 20+. The Queen of England would have been very satisfied!” We're fortunate that the comments are overwhelmingly positive, but we do get some occasional complaints. A typical one is “Too expensive.” As long as fee comments like that are rare, I don't worry about it much. On the other hand if I read a complaint such as glasses took too long or an employee was rude, and if the patient's name is indicated, our office manager calls the patient to thank them for letting us know and to apologize.
In addition to gathering important data about your practice, asking people for their opinion is a smart marketing tool in itself. The fact that you have a system in place shows that you care and that you value patient's opinions. Not everyone will respond to the survey, but every patient knows they had the opportunity and they know you care about their satisfaction.