The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) consumer survey is the first standardized means of measuring a patient’s satisfaction with their hospital stay. Prior to the development of HCAHPS, standardized hospital satisfaction metrics were not available. Periodic attempts to measure patient satisfaction usually led to skewed results based in large part on their funding sources (which were often affiliated with hospitals in the network the surveys were intended to measure).
During the construction of the HCAHPS survey instrument an extensive effort was made to create a reliable, objective measurement of patient satisfaction that can be applied to hospitals nationwide. In addition, the HCAHPS consumer survey instrument was designed to incentivize hospitals to provide better care to their patients. This was considered necessary since a large component of federal aid to a hospital will now be tied to its HCAHPS performance. Finally, HCAHPS will enable patients to be directly involve in their healthcare by disclosing certain hospital operations for their review.
As for the survey itself, HCAHPS prompts patients with 27 different questions in seven distinct areas regarding the quality of service the hospital provides. The rigorous nature of the survey is such that many hospitals have pre-emptively implemented new procedural checklists for their regular staff. Hospitals across the nation will now require that nurses regularly inquire after their patients’ well-being. HCAHPS research into the data recovery methods clearly showed that many patients look more favorably on an institution that makes their intentions and interests regarding the quality of care clear. Quality of care for patients also tends to rise when both patients and staff are aware that the hospital will be held accountable for its actions.
As part of its transparency initiative, the yearly results of the HCAHPS survey are disclosed on the official United States Medicare website. During its lengthy developmental process, HCAHPS was subject to continuous review by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as well as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. These two large government agencies were responsible for developing qualitative metrics for measuring patient satisfaction and hospital performance. The types of questions that are included are specifically formulated to compensate for variance in locality and custom, and focus on hospital performance in distinctly measureable ways—such as length of stay (LOS) per procedure.
HCAHPS also takes into account patient biases for method of data collection. That is, patients have been shown to rate hospital performance as more satisfactory if they are given the HCAHPS survey via telephone. To compensate for this phenomenon, HCAHPS is administered in a variety of formats. In municipalities where only certain methods of distribution are available, the results of the hospital performance will be adjusted to compensate for the method by which the survey was distributed.