Healthcare Surveys

Twenty years ago when I worked at a hospital, one of the questions that was asked of inpatients upon their discharge was in essence about the temperature of the food - were you satisfied or not. So if someone said they were not satisfied with the temperature of their food while in the hospital, what could you do with that? I suppose you could sit in a meeting room and speculate what they meant by that response. (Personally I prefer my mashed potatoes warm and my ice cream cold.) But without more information or a drill down question, you could spend the afternoon guessing why that person stated that. Soon after understanding what we were doing, that questionnaire was discontinued and we contracted with Press Ganey to conduct our patient satisfaction surveys.

That was the status of many healthcare surveys back in the day - poorly constructed, very little actionable information, but partly due to JCAHO, you had a feedback loop. You could produce statistics showing your satisfaction scores and you could provide minutes of meetings where you discussed how to improve those scores. Checkmark.

Potentially now you have the opportunity to gain more insight into responses. Let's say a patient responded that they felt their food was bland. Cross referencing with their patient record, you see that they were on a Low Sodium Diet while hospitalized. A cause and effect? By having their demographic information, one could compare different parameters to see if there is an underlying reason for responses. Are there any trends based on someone's age? I used to eat PBJ sandwiches as a kid but haven't had one in ages; our tastes in food change over time. Are there differences in gender? It may be safe to say more males prefer a good burger than a tuna salad croissant.

Although this post focused on food (guess what time it is!), asking questions of patients (customers) that allow you to gain a better understanding of opportunities for improvement is paramount for many hospitals in an urban setting. Where I used to live, I had three hospitals within fifteen minutes of me. How do I chose between the three? While someone may not elect one hospital or another based on the yumminess of food, I discovered through zip code analysis that for elective procedures, someone living within a mile of Hospital X decided to travel much further to Hospital Y. There could be a host of reasons to do (likely where their doctor has privileges), but our role as quality professionals is to minimize those reasons due to performance concerns.

If you are involved with these types of surveys at your institution, make sure you are asking actionable questions that someone without a college education can answer. If we are to improve healthcare, we need good data to learn what the consumers of our care really deem as important to THEM.