My Experience with a Healthcare Survey; or, From Nagging Doubts to Growing Skepticism

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I go to my healthcare provider twice a year, once for a general checkup and six months afterward for blood pressure monitoring.  For various reasons, I often postpone these visits but I am pretty diligent.

question mark appMy last appointment was the blood pressure  check, but I came with questions about other issues.  As always, the former was fine and the latter were answered.

In the past, I have generally received a mailed questionnaire, which I invariably filled out and sent back in the return envelope.  In a technological advance, this time I did the survey on line.  It turned out to be by Press Ganey.

“We take your feedback very seriously,” my provider says.  “The voice of our patients” (they got that slogan from Press Ganey) is “a vital part of the care we provide”.  I am not sure what that statement that actually means,  but evidently it shows good intentions. “Many changes have been put in place in response to patient feedback,” and a few examples are actually given on their web site.

Now, I’ve written about such surveys on this blog.  As a consultant, I have designed, administered, analyzed and written about employee surveys. I’ve done product, political and other surveys, too.

Truthfully, I did not enjoy this “patient experience”.  The survey was too long, too detailed, and too subjective.  As with HCAHPS, I can’t help wondering if asking for too much impedes participation and accuracy.

There were many pages; each had multiple questions on a particular topic and a box for comments.  At first, I conscientiously answered all questions, but eventually I began skipping.  If I had really contemplated each question and thought about what the right answer was, it would have taken me much more time than I could afford to give.  Such a drop-off in participation is common in surveys that are too long.  I have warned people about that point – here I was demonstrating it!

A paper survey might have better in that respect, because one can put it away after starting and complete it later. An on-line survey can replicate that aspect, but such an option is rare and if it were possible on this one I did not notice it.  Of course once one stops, regardless of format, the danger of never continuing is great; but somehow I imagine it is higher for on-line than for paper.

At any rate, my overall feeling on finishing was not gratitude for having my views solicited nor even annoyance at the expense of my time, but rather wonderment at how useful the data that Press Ganey is collecting really is.  As I am sure others doing this survey felt, I could not help thinking that if a “conscientious person like me” didn’t give it full attention, what would others do?

Suppose that instead of all those questions and pages, there had been just one box.  Or suppose instead of a survey, someone had called me.  Either way, imagine that I was simply asked, “You had an appointment with Dr. _ on Jan. _. How did it go? Is there anything you want to tell us about it?” In that case, I would probably have answered that everything was fine.  Perhaps I would have given my stock observation in managed care one feels that such visits are a little too rushed, but, still, “no problem”.

Wouldn’t the data from such a “minimalist” approach actually be more meaningful that all the numbers generated by many questions on many pages? As is so many areas, is healthcare doing itself more harm than good by devoting so much time and attention to creating figures that don’t have real significance?

I could write more, but my e-mail shows that I have a paid survey to do.  And here comes a text message asking me to rate the service I got when I complained that my e-mail wasn’t working.  So I probably won’t have time to work up a survey on how useful readers found this blog post to be, though you can always post a comment to tell us – using a scale of one to ten, of course.

Jim murphy

Jim Murphy has a solo consulting practice called Management 3000, focusing on organizational development and change management. Formerly he led the Massachusetts Bay Organizational Development Learning Group, was Human Resources Director for the City of Boston Assessing Department, and served as a consultant with the Boston Management Consortium.  His consulting practice includes management coaching as well as research and writing on employee relationships, leadership, healthcare and collaborative practices.  Having produced newsletters for several organizations  and being a frequent content writer for the”Confident Voices in Healthcare” blog, he is interested in writing and research opportunities, as we all consulting and coaching.


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