Problem Solvers

Asking the Right Questions

Patient satisfaction surveys are telling business tools.

CMS requires accredited providers to document patient satisfaction as part of their accreditation standards. If providers neglect to do so, it can cost them points on their accreditation score. But whether mandatory or not, collecting customer feedback is a business practice all providers should do in order to receive information that can improve their business.

When a provider is accredited, that means it needs to continue to meet or exceed CMS quality standards. Therefore, every accrediting organization (AO) has to have a standard that relates to a provider collecting patient satisfaction and complaint data from their customers.

CMS does not dictate measures to use to collect the data or what questions to ask patients. In fact, CMS basically looks for a pass/fail grade given by the provider’s AO regarding the provider’s overall patient satisfaction collection standards. Therefore, each AO is different in its proprietary standards of patient satisfaction data collection.

Sandy Canally, RN, President, The Compliance Team, a healthcare accreditation organization, says her company performs customer satisfaction benchmarking by having all their provider clients use the same tool to collect their customer satisfaction data. This funnels the information they convey regarding patient satisfaction into a database, where it is compared against thousands of other providers. Providers can then prove their ability by the benchmarked standard. Benchmarking also offers value-added feedback for improvement in this category.

Your AO and Customer Satisfaction

An AO must report customer complaints to CMS. Every month, Canally sends any patient complaints that her company has received against providers to CMS. Canally said that many of the complaints come from customers not being able to operate the equipment, which usually points toward the provider not going through the instructions thoroughly enough for the particular patient. There are also complaints about equipment not working properly and the provider not responding appropriately.

“If the provider has been contacted over and over again and it hasn’t been taken care of that’s when it elevates to the customer calling the accreditor,” said Canally.

Canally also pointed out that letting customer satisfaction data collection slide is probably an indicator of what’s going on currently in the provider’s business overall.

“If they look at customer satisfaction surveys from a business perspective, it’s in their best interest to track this because it’s going to help them identify things that perhaps they believe are occurring but can’t prove that they are occurring,” she said.

Informative Feedback

Patient satisfaction surveys can also help pinpoint where providers may be weak in certain business areas. For example, a provider sends a customer satisfaction survey out in the mail and receives a bad response that is not representative of its customer base. Canally’s team will look at that and give the provider recommendations to get a better response, such as instead of mailing a survey, make a phone call instead. In fact, the customer satisfaction collection database Canally uses with her providers lets providers call a customer, ask the eight questions and upload the responses into the database while still on the phone.

“Providers in our database have the capability to benchmark themselves against the thousands of providers in the database,” said Canally. A company with multiple locations can compare not just companies but different locations as well.

“What they then need to do is use that data in their business in a positive way, showing their customers, employees, referral sources and certainly the payers that its third-party accreditor is the one that aggregates and benchmarks this data.” She said.” That way a provider can says it’s been over 95 percent for the last six months against the national average. The benchmarking data can acts as a selling point for providers.

So what should be part of the survey? In the case of Canally’s Compliance team, to help providers that are part of its Exemplary Providers program achieve customer satisfaction per CMS standards and improve their business practices, The Compliance Team gives them eight questions to ask their customers regarding access, delivery and service. Those questions are:

  • Were equipment/Supplies delivered in a timely manner?
  • Were equipment/supplies ready for patient use upon delivery?
  • Did you receive and understand instructions on proper application and use of equipment/supplies?
  • Did you feel confident to operate/use equipment/supplies?
  • Did you Receive info on my Rights & Responsibilities, complaint process, billing, contact numbers, and reasons to notify the equipment/supply company?
  • Were responses to my questions, problems, or concerns addressed in a timely manner?
  • Are you satisfied with the equipment or supplies?
  • Are you satisfied with the service? Would you recommend us to others?

Mandatory or not, It is very important to the success of a provider’s business to understand the way a customer perceives the business, and customer satisfaction surveys open the door to that knowledge. Canally said that feedback is key in any business to find out if:

  • You are meeting the needs of your customers.
  • You are using that information to positively grow your business.

“Every provider out there is looking for ways to survive and also take their business to the next level and grow it,” said Canally. “And customer satisfaction surveys are a way to give the provider a wake-up call about problems that they otherwise would not have noticed.”

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Joseph Duffy is a freelance writer and marketing consultant, and a regular contributor to HME Business and DME Pharmacy. He can be reached via e-mail at joe@prooferati.com.

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