A patient/client survey can yield valuable information

A colleague visited my office the other day and noticed a stack of patient surveys on my desk. He asked what they were and how I obtained them. I told him we routinely ask our patients important questions about the practice to find out how we are doing and what we can do to improve our services. He asked "if it was really worth all the effort?" I said it was the single, most-valuable tool gaining insight into the practice. My friend asked "How in the world would you possibly ask every patient wh

The author discusses ways you can design an effective survey.

Dr. Randy Shoup

A colleague visited my office the other day and noticed a stack of patient surveys on my desk. He asked what they were and how I obtained them. I told him we routinely ask our patients important questions about the practice to find out how we are doing and what we can do to improve our services. He asked "if it was really worth all the effort?" I said it was the single, most-valuable tool gaining insight into the practice. My friend asked "How in the world would you possibly ask every patient what they think about you?"

Most professionals set up practice based on (a) How the professional wants to run the business and (b) What his/her preconceived notions are of what the patient/client is looking for. Rarely is there direct input by the patient/client/customer that impacts how a business targets its market. The occasional seminar will tell the participant what he/she thinks are the trends. The rare patient who will tell you how you are delivering service, through their eyes, gives a narrow view of your practice and is not dependable enough to base a procedural change. It is very uncommon to find an office that takes a systematic approach to doing accurate market surveys.

A patient survey (Figure 1) can give you a world of valuable information if it is designed correctly. Start by describing exactly what you want to know, be specific and ask simple questions. An example of a bad question is "Did the receptionist do a good job?" It is too vague and any answer doesn`t really tell you much. A good question is "When you telephone the office, is your call answered within three rings?" or "Are you treated courteously when you enter the office?"

Yes and no answers are easy, but provide less information. Try using a one through five scale with one being the best, most-positive response and five being your most-negative response. People feel these questions are easy to fill out and like the ability to "rate" a given issue. You can change the response scale throughout the survey, but don`t do it too often. Divide your office into departments that the patient/client can identify, i.e., reception, clinical team, business personnel, insurance, doctor/professional and/or facility, billing practices. Be sure to ask for and provide adequate space for comments. You will find you ponder the commented sheets more than the simple, circled responses.

Make your survey long enough to give you the most information for your invested dollar, but not too long so people won`t fill them out. We routinely use a single page printed front and back. We limit ourselves to 20 to 30 questions with space for comments, suggestions and the optional name and phone number.

Use this opportunity to market your services. More than looking for a response, you want to convey information as a yes/no question, ask "Did you know our practice was accepting new clients that you refer?" or "Did you know we now offer the new `high-tech widget` cleaning services?" The more your clients know about you and your services the more they can choose to utilize your facility.

Be prepared for positive and negative responses. Think of this as a learning situation and not a personal attack. Take what is given and use it to your best benefit. Make changes that are responsive to the patient/ client; after all, who is it that pays the bills around your office...the person filling out the survey!

There are several ways to get a good cross-section of your client base by using one of the following selection criteria: (1) Send a survey to every patient. It covers everyone but can be somewhat expensive. (2) Go through your client files and send a survey to every 4th, 5th or 6th name. Exclude children, but send the survey to the parents. (3) Give a survey to every patient or client you have had personal contact with over a three-week period of time. (4) Now, select the top 100 patients/clients in your practice and survey them.

Use whatever criteria you choose to select the top 100. If you mail the survey, provide a stamped envelope for the return. Take your surveys to heart and make positive changes to meet your patients` needs. You`ll prosper from serving others

The author has a restorative and cosmetic practice in Indianapolis, IN. Dr. Shoup lectures on practice management and case presentation.

Dr. Randolph K. Shoup and Staff

9855 Crosspoint Blvd., Ste. 144

Indianapolis, IN 46256

(317) 841-7880

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