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Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

How to create patient experience surveys to improve your practice

Gather feedback and insights with a patient experience survey — here’s how.

two people doing a patient experience survey

At a Glance

  • How do patients feel about their healthcare? The Beryl Institute’s PX Pulse Survey reveals that only 41% of U.S. healthcare consumers rate healthcare as “good” or “very good.”
  • Many providers are offering patient experience surveys. They consider these surveys vital for improving care quality and patient-centered services.
  • As part of an 8-step process, the implementation of patient surveys helps practices refine care delivery. Responses help to enhance communication. This fosters a culture of exceptional service.

The Beryl Institute is a global community of healthcare professionals committed to transforming the human experience in healthcare. In July 2023, it released the 13th edition of its PX Pulse Survey. The report uses patient experience surveys to explore healthcare consumer perspectives in the United States. It found that only 41% of consumers believe that healthcare in America is “good” or “very good.”

The report also highlights an important trend. Patients’ perception of healthcare quality had dropped 5 percentage points in six months and was near the record low since Beryl started the surveys in December 2019. On another measure, of the overall care experience, ratings were down 4 percentage points from the previous survey and at the lowest level Beryl has found.  

At the root of the problem lies the patient experience. In this article, we'll explain the importance of the patient experience. We will show you how to design a patient experience survey so you can see where your practice stands on this all-important matter. And we'll offer you a free downloadable template for patient experience surveys.

It starts with patient experience

In 2008, the University of Utah Healthcare System (U of U Health) consistently received low rankings and negative feedback from patients. Patients cited a lack of professionalism and poor communication. They complained of long wait times for scheduling appointments and a lack of care coordination. Patients made it clear that U of U Health wasn’t meeting their needs — or their expectations.

In response, U of U Health leadership completely revitalized the system’s organizational culture and improved the patient experience. The 7-year process was underpinned by this idea: medical care is great only if the patient thinks it is.

Some healthcare professionals might quibble with the idea of evaluating the quality of care based on such a subjective metric. (We’ve all had patients who, no matter what we do, are never satisfied.) But it’s important to note that patient satisfaction and patient experience are not the same thing.

An assessment of a patient's experience evaluates whether a particular component of healthcare, such as clear communication with a provider, actually happened. It can also study how often it happened in the healthcare setting. Evaluations of patient satisfaction investigate whether a patient’s expectations about a health encounter were met. Two people can receive identical care but rate it differently because of their differing expectations.

Today, the U of U Health is consistently ranked in the top 10 in the nation for quality healthcare. It is known as a leader in providing compassionate, coordinated, and expert care for its patients. The secret to U of U Health’s improvement? Patient experience surveys.

Patient Perspectives Report

What is a patient experience survey?

A patient experience survey gathers feedback and insights directly from patients. It asks about their experiences, preferences, and level of satisfaction along the touchpoints of their healthcare journey. Surveys give healthcare teams valuable insight into which parts of the process work well and which parts need improvement. When used correctly, a patient experience survey can help you optimize operations for your independent medical practice

Patient experience surveys can offer your clinical practice a number of benefits, including:

A barometer for patient satisfaction 

Surveys can gather very specific feedback about your healthcare delivery model. This information enables you to address patient concerns swiftly to prevent patient attrition or negative online reviews

A guide to quality improvement

Well-designed patient experience surveys pinpoint specific aspects of care delivery at your practice that may need attention. They help you to provide patient-centric care to your patient populations. With a multitude of touchpoints across the modern patient journey, practices should include questions that speak to each. Ask about:

  • How easy it is to book an appointment
  • Wait times
  • Communication with healthcare providers
  • Practitioner visit
  • Follow-up instructions or care
  • The overall patient experience and patient information
  • Patients' staff experience

The feedback could help you save time and resources while creating a better patient experience. 

A way to promote patient-centered care

The feedback helps healthcare providers and organizations better understand patient expectations and patient behavior. Thus, surveys promote patient-centered care and help doctors tailor healthcare solutions based on the unique requirements and expectations of their patients.

A way to enhance communication

It happens. You end a conversation with a patient thinking that you were on the same page about the plan of care. Then, after a question or two, you learn that that wasn’t the case at all. Patient experience surveys can be a great way to evaluate the effectiveness of communication between your patients and your team. This information can pinpoint exactly where communication breaks down. It can help you improve the clarity and the effectiveness of your communication channels.

A channel for engaging patients

Want to engage your patients more in their own healthcare? Ask them in your patient experience survey. It's a great way to involve them in their own care processes and to learn about their patient journey. It empowers them to advocate for their own needs and expectations. When patients believe that their opinions and experiences matter, they often become more actively involved in managing their health.

Data to assess outcomes

Some patient experience surveys include questions designed to provide insights into the impact of healthcare interventions on patients' lives. These types of surveys help healthcare professionals assess changes in a patient's quality of life or symptom management. Surveys improve patient monitoring. Patient-reported outcomes show their adherence to treatment plans, so that you can help them become more proactive in their care. 

Benchmarking and comparisons

Many healthcare organizations use patient survey data to benchmark their performance against national or industry standards. This allows them to see how they compare to peers and to identify areas where they excel or lag behind.

Compliance and accreditation 

Many healthcare accreditation bodies and regulatory agencies require hospitals and healthcare systems to collect and report patient feedback as part of their compliance processes. Meeting these requirements is essential for maintaining accreditation.

How to execute the perfect patient survey

It takes several steps to design an effective patient experience survey. Then, it’s time to gather, analyze, and act upon the feedback collected. Follow these 8 steps to create and execute the perfect patient experience survey at your practice. You can also refer to this patient experience survey template for further ideas.

1. Define clear objectives

What specific aspects of the patient experience or practice operations are you trying to assess or improve? Perhaps your goal in your healthcare messages is to: 

  • Identify areas for improvement in patient care
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of communication
  • Measure overall patient satisfaction

Having clear goals will help you design relevant survey questions and interpret the results effectively.

Determine how you will keep patient survey responses confidential and anonymous. Patients should feel comfortable providing honest feedback without fear of repercussions. Communicate clearly with your patients about how you will use and protect their data in accordance with applicable privacy regulations.

2. Design the survey 

Keep the survey concise and focused. Patients are more likely to participate if the survey doesn't take too much of their time. Create a survey that is user friendly, with a logical flow and easy-to-understand language. Make sure that it directly addresses patient needs and the patient relationship with your practice.

Use a mix of closed-ended (multiple-choice) and open-ended (text-based) questions to gather both quantitative and qualitative data. And it’s always a good idea to pilot test the survey with a small group of patients. That will help you identify any issues with wording, question clarity, or response options.

Ultimately, a survey must be reliable, with reproducible results. It should be be valid, measure what it's supposed to, and take 10 minutes or less to complete. 

Consider using standardized and validated patient satisfaction survey tools. One is the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) surveys. This can help ensure reliability and comparability of results.

3. Distribute the survey

Determine the best method for distributing the survey. Options include paper surveys, phone calls, email, or online forms. Consider using a secure patient portal if available. Establish a schedule for survey distribution that aligns with patient interactions. It helps to offer multiple opportunities to provide feedback. Survey patients right after their appointments through follow-up emails, automated phone calls, or via a secure portal. 

4. Collect survey responses and data

Maintain the confidentiality and the anonymity of your respondents. This is key to encouraging honest feedback and building long-term patient relationships. Use proven survey software or data analysis tools to compile and analyze the data. Consider using data visualization techniques like graphs and charts to make your results more accessible. And remember to follow the HIPAA rules regarding patient records as you collect your patient data.

Medical facilities can use protected health information (PHI) as part of their healthcare operations, and therefore in surveys or questionnaires, as long as they state that in their privacy policy. Most practices give patients their privacy notice on or before the first visit. To remain HIPAA-compliant, explicitly include patient surveys in your privacy policy.

5. Interpret the results

Examine survey results to identify trends, patterns, and areas where improvements are needed. Pay attention to both quantitative data (numerical ratings) and qualitative data (comments and suggestions). This healthcare data will create a complete picture of your patients’ experiences and their consumer behavior. Determine how you can provide a better customer experience and ensure happier patients.

To benchmark your results, compare your practice's survey results to industry standards, similar healthcare practices and your previous surveys. This competitive analysis will help you gain insights into your performance relative to your peers. It also may show you how to derive a competitive advantage.

6. Develop an action plan based on the survey findings

Once you’ve analyzed your data, use it to develop a detailed action plan. Prioritize areas for improvement and establish clear goals and strategies for making changes. Engage your staff and other providers in the improvement process and assign clear roles and responsibilities. Identify key performance indicators (KPIs) for improvements that are measurable and sustainable.

Establish a feedback loop with patients by informing them of improvements made based on their feedback. This reinforces the idea that their input is valued and leads to tangible improvements. And it allows you to be sure that, via strong patient communication, you're meeting your patients' needs. You can also offer patient education at this point. This can help to improve patient outcomes.

Be transparent about the steps that your practice is taking to address patient concerns. This demonstrates a commitment to patient-centered care and it can help build patient trust. 

7. Monitor progress

Remember: Improving patient satisfaction is an ongoing process and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You'll want to look hard at what your patients have to say about physician performance. Regularly review and refine your survey instrument and improvement strategies based on your patients’ changing needs and expectations.

Continuously monitor the impact of your initiative by collecting ongoing feedback through follow-up surveys or other feedback mechanisms.

8. Celebrate success and recognize improvements

Acknowledge and celebrate achievements and improvements in customer satisfaction along the way. Salute your team for their part in providing quality patient care and patient outreach by using these healthcare processes. This can help to motivate your staff and it can reinforce a culture of patient-centered care. 

How do you conduct a patient survey? 

Patient experience surveys are best conducted after each patient visit. Ideally, your practice should send patients a short survey within a few hours after the appointment. In that way, you can capture feedback while the visit is still fresh in the patient’s mind

Your practice should send patient surveys electronically to allow yourself to be responsive to patient expectations. Consider sending a post-care email with instructions for follow-up care and information on payment (if applicable). Be sure to add a link to the post-visit survey. Practices can use platforms like Google Forms or a comprehensive healthcare management platform like Tebra, which will automate the process.

Practices using Tebra benefit from surveys sent automatically via text or email about 3 hours after the booked appointment. If patients don’t respond, the platform even has a short, repeat cadence that nudges patients to complete the survey at their earliest convenience. 

Sample patient experience survey questions to get started

U of U Health identified these 5 key patient experience domains:

  • Caring
  • Listening
  • Explaining
  • Teamwork 
  • Efficiency

These domains provide a starting point to help you develop your own patient experience survey. As you do so, customize and expand upon the following sample questions. This will help you to create a comprehensive patient survey that addresses your practice's unique needs and priorities. 

1. Overall satisfaction

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very dissatisfied and 10 being very satisfied, how would you rate your overall experience with our practice?

2. Appointment scheduling

How easy was it to schedule an appointment with our practice?

  • Very easy
  • Somewhat easy
  • Neutral
  • Somewhat difficult
  • Very difficult

3. Wait time

How long did you wait before being seen by the healthcare provider at your last appointment?

  • Less than 15 minutes
  • 15-30 minutes
  • 31-45 minutes
  • More than 45 minutes
  • More than 60 minutes

4. Communication

Did your healthcare provider listen to your concerns and answer your questions during your last visit?

  • Yes, fully
  • Yes, somewhat
  • No

5. Information sharing

Did you receive clear information about your condition, treatment options, and next steps?

  • Yes, fully
  • Yes, somewhat
  • No

6. Staff courtesy

How would you rate the courtesy and professionalism of our staff, including receptionists, nurses, and support personnel?

  • Excellent
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Poor

7. Cleanliness and comfort

How would you rate the cleanliness and comfort of our facilities, including waiting areas and examination rooms?

  • Excellent
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Poor

8. Appointment availability

Are you able to secure appointments with your preferred healthcare provider when needed?

  • Always
  • Sometimes
  • Rarely
  • Never

9. How likely are you to recommend our practice to friends or family members?

  • Very likely
  • Likely
  • Neutral
  • Unlikely
  • Very unlikely

10. Suggestions for improvement

Do you have any specific suggestions about our services or your experience with our practice?

Alternatively, you can use this downloadable template to craft your patient survey.

Bring the benefits of patient experiences surveys to your practice

It’s important to note that patient experience surveys might not benefit all independent practices. For instance, low-volume clinics may not receive a sufficient number of responses for patients' answers to be statistically significant. Additionally, there can be significant response/recall biases, among other biases. Finally, it’s imperative that exceptional, evidence-based care should not be jeopardized in an effort to receive higher patient satisfaction scores. Patient feedback tools can’t fix everything that’s wrong with the healthcare system. But they can go a long way toward centering patients in care delivery. They can help you make sure that your team is doing everything it can to provide exceptional service to all of your patients.

Patient Perspectives Report

You Might Also Be Interested In

Learn how to create a seamless patient experience that increases loyalty and reduces churn, while providing personalized care that drives practice growth in Tebra’s free guide to optimizing your practice. 

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Kate Smith, RN, BSN

Kate Smith is a registered nurse with extensive experience caring for patients in urban emergency departments, private practices, in-home hospice settings, and on cruise ships around the world. She is also a writer who is passionate about the medical field, and endeavors to approach topics in ways that give readers a new perspective.

Reviewed by

Baran Erdik, healthcare consultant and compliance expert

Baran Erdik, MHPA, has expertise in healthcare editing, administration, and policy. He currently works in healthcare compliance and consulting.

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