March 4, 2019

A Guide to the HCAHPS Healthcare Survey

One of the most important ways for hospitals to gain valuable patient feedback is through the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey (HCAHPS or CAHPS).

The ratings produced by the survey also help patients pick the best hospital or provider to suit their needs, which makes a healthcare organization’s reputation even more important. Research shows that having a positive online reputation is a major factor for 60 percent of patients looking for new providers.

Highly-rated HCAHPS results also reward organizations involved in the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing program with additional payments based on the care they provide to patients with Medicare.

In other words, you can use the HCAHPS survey to dramatically increase your patient acquisition and improve the patient experience.

What is HCAHPS?

HCAHPS is the first national and standardized survey for the healthcare industry. It’s made up of 32 questions that accurately measures a patient’s “perceptions of their experience.” The answers provided by patients are categorized into ten different measures:

  • How well doctors communicated with patients
  • How responsive hospital staff were to patients’ needs
  • How well hospital staff helped patients manage pain
  • How well the staff communicated with patients about new medicines
  • Whether key info was provided at discharge
  • How well patients understood the type of care they need after leaving the hospital
  • The cleanliness of patients’ rooms
  • The quietness of patients’ rooms
  • A patient’s overall ratings of the hospital
  • Whether the patient would recommend it to family and friends

Three questions, which initially focused on pain management, were replaced in January 2018 with questions that now focus on how the staff communicated with patients about their pain. This group of questions is called the “Communication About Pain” score and will show up in reports starting in October 2020.

Healthcare groups can also choose to include additional questions to the survey to get more feedback on specific items in their facility.

How to Send HCAHPS Surveys

According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (the organization in charge of HCAHPS), you should send the survey to a “random sample of adult inpatients” anytime between 48 hours and six weeks after they are discharged.

patient satisfaction surveys

Eligible patients for the survey include those admitted to medical, surgical, and maternity care services. It’s also important to note that HCAHPS is not restricted to just those with Medicare.

There are four ways to share the survey:

  • Mail a physical copy
  • Call patients by phone
  • Mail a survey and follow-up by phone
  • Utilize the Active Interactive Voice Response (automated phone system)

Each method requires groups to have multiple attempts to contact patients. Most organizations that use HCAHPS surveys must survey patients each month. The survey is available in English with translations available in Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, and Portuguese.

How is HCAHPS data reported?

Survey information and data from HCAHPS is reported on a quarterly basis on Hospital Compare (an official government website), and data from the oldest quarter is eliminated from the site as results from the new quarter are added. Hospitals will need to report at least 25 completed surveys over the course of four quarters to have their results publicly displayed on the site.

Hospital Compare also includes star ratings for the ten measures listed above as well as an overall rating. Organizations that want to get ratings must have 100 completed surveys over a four-quarter period in addition to meeting the minimum requirements to have their results displayed on the site.

Hospital Compare also includes other valuable information about the hospitals listed included such as readmission dates, how quickly staff at a facility will treat a patient with specific medical emergencies, and if the cost of a particular operation is higher or lower than the national average payment. This information is gathered from other sources including hospital data, and Medicare payment claims.

The Importance of HCAHPS

A key point in HCAHPS is that can help boost an organization’s online reputation. Comparing multiple facilities on Hospital Compare allows consumers to see ratings from some of the most trustworthy sources online: the patients themselves.

Research from the GE Healthcare Camden Group and Prophet revealed that an overwhelming 81 percent of consumers are “unsatisfied with their healthcare experience.” They’re looking to sites like Hospital Compare to find a new provider.

Having favorable HCAHPS ratings also affects hospitals that use inpatient prospective payment system hospitals, which use a different payment system that puts each case in a different diagnosis-related group. This is because HCAHPS scores are calculated into the facility’s Hospital Value-Based Purchasing program, which “rewards acute hospitals with incentive payments for the quality of care they give to people with Medicare.”

Specifically, these hospitals will need 300 completed surveys over four calendar quarters in order to qualify for better incentive payments.

Best Practices for HCAHPS Surveys

HCAHPS continues to rise in popularity as the go-to survey for most healthcare providers. As of July 2017, there have been over 3.1 recorded surveys completed with an average of more than 8,400 patients completing it every day.

This prompts the question: how do you get better HCAHPS ratings?

Improve the Patient Experience

A 2018 report from The Beryl Institute showed that 91 percent of consumers viewed the patient experience as “significant to the healthcare decisions they make.”

This starts by looking at HCAHPS survey results to find crucial pain points. For instance, patient responses might show that nurses excelled in easily explaining health issues with a patient, but they didn’t respond fast enough when a patient pressed the call button.

With a large sample size of surveys, you can spot these trends and make vital changes to operations before they escalate beyond your control. These improvements also create a hassle-free environment, which contributes to better ratings and higher patient retention.

Improve Patient Engagement

Happy patients aren’t just the result of a better experience; they’re also the byproduct of increased patient engagement, which uses effective communication to make them more knowledgeable and accountable for their own health.

Creating this enriched relationship between patient and provider requires organizations to make medical information easily accessible and personable for every patient. This allows each person to become highly invested in their wellness.

With HCAHPS — along with online reviews and ratings from other sites — hospitals and healthcare providers can leverage valuable patient feedback to more effectively improve performance and quality of care.

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