Healthcare Experience Blog

Are you asking questions that matter?

The patient experience is complicated. While we believe that the questions from the HCAHPS survey do cover important topics, there are many other aspects of a hospital stay that impact the way a patient feels about their total experience. So, what are some other questions you could ask to supplement the required set?

How often did hospital staff members wash their hands when they came into your room?

About 5% of all inpatients a year acquire a hospital related infection.* How many of your patients are included in this number? Some estimates I’ve seen suggest that only about half of doctors and other staff routinely wash their hands when entering a patient room.

While I don’t know how many of those infections are a result of lax hand washing by hospital staff, it’s common sense that strict hand hygiene can help avoid the spread of infection. With an increasing concern for antibiotic-resistant germs, patients like to see their medical staff taking every possible precaution to prevent an infection. Feedback on this question has the potential to pinpoint where this is and isn’t happening within the facility, while providing evidence that you take patient safety seriously.

To what extent did you feel a sense of compassion from our staff?

The last thing a patient wants when they are already feeling at their lowest is a rude, inconsiderate, or non-empathetic doctor or nurse making them feel worse. By including this question, you send a message to your medical and support staff that empathy matters.

By asking the patient for the staff member’s name, you may be able to pinpoint which individual medical staff are doing a great job at showing their patients empathy and compassion, and which ones are not. It’s worth knowing–and acting on, if patterns appear.

How would you rate the quality of the food offered to you?

It’s obvious that most hospital patients aren’t feeling their greatest and may not even be in the mood to eat. However, food is an integral part of the healing process and gaining the strength needed to recover from an injury, surgery, or other health issue. The food and beverages offered should be responsive to the patient’s medical needs, and to their preferences, as much as possible. For example, an individual who is in the hospital because they suffered a heart attack should not be offered foods that are high in sodium and saturated fat, as my sister was! We found through research in a Cajun community that many patients complained that the hospital food was not spicy enough–suggesting the needs for more patient education along with their lower-sodium diets!

Other questions that could be helpful in gaining insightful feedback for your hospital are:

  • Who was the most memorable staff member you met? Why?
  • How welcoming were we to you and your family?
  • How would you rate the ease of parking at our medical center?

To learn more about how to make patient surveying more effective, download our free white paper.


Are patient survey results slowing you down?

TimeGraphicTime is our most valuable resource, especially in healthcare. When it comes to patient surveying, do you make time work for your hospital?

We often hear healthcare executives complain that by the time they receive survey results, other hospital staff disregard them as no longer relevant. To them, so much time has passed that things have “certainly improved.” We suggest using a survey method that will produce results more quickly, so that you can use them as valid leverage in your effort to improve the patient experience.

Online surveying requires the least amount of time between a patient receiving a service and the hospital getting that patient’s feedback. In our 2012 white paperBenefits of Capturing Patient Feedback Using Today’s Technology, we found that by using online surveying, a major Medical Center received 90% of their final survey results within eight days of sending out the surveys.

Less time spent waiting for results allows for a more accurate and current picture of what kind of experience you are providing to your patients. This means:

  • You can act more quickly to improve areas that your patients are dissatisfied with
  • Hospital staff will know sooner what they are doing correctly


Mail surveying is inefficient for a couple of reasons:

  • In general, mail surveying is very slow due to the fact that the survey must be sent, received by the patient, completed, and then mailed back–a four-step process
  • A required follow-up survey is sent via snail mail to patients that did not complete the survey the first time


This follow-up step adds about two weeks to the surveying process, bringing the total time to receive mail surveying results to approximately six weeks. This is three times as long as the two weeks typically needed for online surveying.

Phone surveying, while usually faster than mail, still depends on when the survey vendors makes the calls, processes the results and makes them available to you. Alternately, online surveying requires little processing time and allows for more instantaneous feedback.

While an online method is not yet approved for HCAHPS surveying, we think that it’s on the horizon. In the meantime, using a combination of mail and online surveying is an HCAHPS-compliant approach that we recommend to yield useful and timely patient feedback.

To learn what key questions you should be asking about patient experience surveying, download our free white paper here.

Is an online approach a better use of your survey dollars?


Patient surveying is crucial to improving the quality of the healthcare experience that hospitals provide. However, this surveying can come with a hefty price tag.

But it doesn’t have to.

Online surveying is far less expensive than mail surveying because it is entirely digital and thus requires no paper, printing, or postage. While phone, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and mail are currently the only approved methods for required HCAHPS surveying, we suggest a different approach.

Have you considered a hybrid method combining mail and online surveying? Mail surveys will satisfy HCAHPS requirements, while online surveying yields enough data to meet ongoing business needs. The bottom line? More surveys for your money.

As we move further and further into the digital age, online surveying is becoming more popular for several reasons.

For the hospital it offers:

  • Cost savings
  • Faster results


For the patient, it offers:

  • Convenience
  • Less time needed to complete the survey


The money you save can be used in several ways. One option is to put the savings to work in other areas of your organization. However, I encourage you to put those dollars towards obtaining a larger survey sample size. This larger sample will yield more feedback and can boost the credibility of your survey results so you can show reliable results down to the unit level. By surveying more patients you paint a more accurate picture of the experience your hospital is really providing.

To learn more about how online surveying can benefit your hospital, and other questions you should be asking about patient experience surveying, click here to download our newest white paper, Five Questions to Ask About Patient Experience Surveying.

How do Hospitals Know if They’re Improving the Patient Experience?

The most common way hospitals determine if they’re on the right track is through surveys. Two kinds, HCAHPS surveys and other kinds of Patient Experience (PX) surveys, are widely used.

That’s what we confirmed in The 2013 State of Patient Experience Study, done in partnership with The Beryl Institute. In the largest study to date on this topic, we gathered information about what American hospitals are actually doing to “improve the Patient Experience (PX).” We surveyed over 1,072 leaders from 672 unique organizations and found that pretty much everybody (86% of our respondents) is using government-mandated surveys (e.g., HCAHPS) to measure and track the success of their individual improvement activities affecting PX.

Other measurement methods being used by hospitals to measure PX and PX improvements included:

Patient Satisfaction/Experience Surveying: 80% said they do this

Calls Made to Patients/Caretakers after Discharge: 70%

Bedside Surveys/Instant Feedback during Rounding: 42%

HCAHPS Domains: 38%

Patient and Family Input Rounding out the Final Two Measures

We at Catalyst Healthcare Research are proud to have met the participation requirements and are now approved by CMS to administer the HCAHPS Survey. Feel free to contact us if you are interested in learning more about how we assist hospitals and health systems to understand, measure, and leverage the “patient experience.”

To see the full report of the 2013 PX study, click here.

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