Keeping bias out of your survey

Three choices for good results

Once you commit to doing a patient satisfaction survey, there are a myriad of choices to make. One of the most important is the methodology, says Rebecca Anwar, PhD, president and CEO of The Sage Group consulting firm in Philadelphia. There are three main options: Hand it out at the office, telephone your patients, or mail them a survey. There are pros and cons to each, she says.

Patient handouts.

Handing out a survey on site is the cheapest option, but it is Anwar’s least favorite. "This makes patients immediately anxious," says Anwar.

"If you give the survey to them before they see the doctor, it won’t relate to their most recent experiences. If you ask them to fill it out before leaving, they worry that you will look at it and know what they said. That means they won’t be as honest. Or they are in a rush and are annoyed. If they take it home, they lose it."

Even if you have an anonymous box for depositing the surveys, patients may fear that you will look at the response immediately after they leave the office, making the results less than anonymous.

Telephone surveys.

While there are instances where this is a good method, you have to be sure you have the appropriate patient base for it, she says. For instance, if you have a high percentage of elderly patients, they may respond better to a phone interview than a written one. If your patient base is less educated, it may also be a good idea to use the telephone.

But Anwar says most people object to the intrusion. "People are inundated with calls at home already. They don’t want to be annoyed by another one."

Mailout surveys.

This is the most expensive option, but it has the least bias built in, says Anwar. Having a postage-paid envelope encourages response from patients.

Having a return address other than the physician’s office with a third-party company’s name on it reassures patients that it is an anonymous survey.

In addition, mailing allows you to pick the best possible sample of patients without a bias of who is home when you call, or who feels relaxed enough to respond to a survey handed out at the office.

There are also some other options, such as focus group discussions, but these are used less frequently. Anwar says a good consultant will go through the options with you and help you pick the one that best fits your needs and budget.