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What Medical Professionals Need to Know About the CAHPS Survey

Drive Patient Satisfaction

By Lisa Holden, RN

 February 10, 2021

The growing use of the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) surveys has created a need for strategies that health plans, medical groups, physician practices, and other organizations can use to improve patients’ experiences with care. For medical professionals, it is important to understand and address the key composites of the survey when caring for patients.

For medical professionals, it is important to address the key composites of the CAHPS survey when caring for patientsThe CAHPS survey is made up of four core topics:

  • access to care
  • communication between patients and providers
  • care coordination
  • customer service

It is important to remember that CAHPS survey does not measure customer satisfaction but instead measures how patients perceived aspects of their care, how you made them feel, and the quality of care that you provided.

Additionally, you may not be familiar with how the CAHPS Survey can affect your bottom line. Here are a few important facts to recognize:

  • Health systems choosing to participate in the Medicare Shared Savings Program are required to use the CAHPS Survey for Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). The results of the ACO CAHPS Survey are used for public reporting on the Physician Compare website, as well as for calculating any “shared savings” to be earned by participating ACOs.
  • In 2019, two new physician payment programs—a merit-based incentive payment system (MIPS) and eligible alternative payment models (APMs)—started to include some version of the CAHPS Survey as part of the quality measurement formula used for payment.
  • The Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) program administered by CMS includes a patient experience survey component which also builds upon the core survey. Eventually, all medical practices with two or more eligible professionals will be required to measure and report patient experience using the PQRS CAHPS Survey. These survey results are reported on the Physician Compare Web site and used with other performance measures to adjust Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) payments to all participating physicians.

Independent Care Health Plan looked at the 2020 CAHPS beta survey and identified some key strategies that you will want to address:

  • Most likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 beta survey heavily focuses on patient interactions by phone or video. If you haven’t already done this, consider implementing strategies such as:
    • Inform your patients what to expect during their phone or video appointment
    • Provide clear and concise directions on how to use video technology
    • Assign a staff member to contact the patient prior to the video appointment to complete a trial run
    • Ensure there is a number the patient can call if they are not able to connect to the video visit
    • Ask your patients if they had any problems using the video. If yes, address these concerns and offer additional support
    • Create a specialized care plan for patients who are hard of hearing and will be participating in a phone, video, or in-person visit
  • Focus on creating an inviting and engaging team. The CAHPS survey asks questions about the patients’ experience from the time they walk into the door, throughout the entire visit, and post-visit interactions. Think about:
    • Do you have the appropriate front-line staff? The survey asks questions about the staffs’ helpfulness and how they made the patient feel.
    • Creating a proactive, friendly environment by focusing on having the appropriate medical documentation to treat the patient, taking your time, and making sure the patient feels heart. The simple question, “Did you have any other questions or concerns that you wanted to discuss today” goes a long way.
    • Consider using Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS is a way to measures the willingness of customers (or in your case, patients) to recommend your practice to others. It’s popular because of its simplicity. It tends to involve asking one question: How likely is it that you would recommend our practice to a friend? The scoring for this answer is most often based on a 0 to 10 scale. Practices that implement such surveys can gain valuable insights into how patients view their experiences with you. This allows you to make improvements prior to the CAHPS survey being administered.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of coordination of care. Make sure your team has strategies in place for:
    • Getting Appointments and Care Quickly:
      • Ensure a few appointments are available each day to accommodate urgent visits.
      • Maintain an effective triage system to ensure that sick patients are seen promptly or provided alternate care.
      • For patients who want to be seen on short notice but cannot be seen by their doctor, offer appointments with a nurse practitioner or physician assistant.
      • Encourage patients to make their routine appointments for checkups or follow-up visits as soon as they can.
    • Getting Needed Care:
      • Educate your patients about the referral process.
      • Make alternative access methods available to patients, such as a nurse advice line, patient portal and urgent care locations.
      • Ensure there are open appointments for patients recently discharged from a facility.
      • Assist patients in making appointments for preventative exams including Mammograms.
    • Post-Visit Needs:
      • If the patient needed blood work, x-rays, or other tests, ensure a staff member assists in making the appointment and follows up with the results or educates the patient where to look for results.
      • For specialty appointments, office staff should help coordinate with the appropriate specialty office.

For additional information and ideas for improving the patient’s experience, we encourage you to utilize The CAHPS Ambulatory Care Improvement Guide.

Understandably, health care organizations have a multitude of priorities and limited resources to work with. However, implementing the right strategies for your organization will improve patient-provider interactions.

References: The CAHPS Ambulatory Care Improvement Guide by Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, December 2017.

Last Updated 02/10/2021


Lisa Holden

Lisa Holden  - RN

Lisa Holden is iCare's Vice President of Accountable Care. Over the past thirty years, she has been focused on education and advocacy for underserved individuals and communities. 

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