Death by a Thousand Surveys

As a nation, we are over-surveyed and it is killing the value of surveys to give meaningful, actionable intelligence on how to make things better.

Unless you are completely “off the grid” (in which case you are highly unlikely to be reading this), you are most likely a victim of survey spam. Get an oil change, call customer support, or sign up for cable and you are immediately hounded to answer a survey.

Here are two un-related examples of how bad the problem has become: GM is currently running a commercial where they mention that “481,000 people answered a 400-question survey administered by JD Powers on automotive quality”. My initial reaction was “How the hell did they ever get nearly half a million people to answer 400 questions? I don’t think my anesthesia written boards were 400 questions.”  The second involved a recent trip with Uber – (As an aside - I get all of my best information from Uber drivers. On various rides, I have learned where to go see wild elephants in Thailand, which candidate non-US citizens voted for in the most recent presidential election, and all about political unrest in Africa and the Middle East). On this particular Uber ride, my driver was listening to “Second Chance Date” – the show’s premise being that the hosts are contacted by people who went on a date thinking that everything went great, only to be surprised that the other person declined a second date. Well, on this particular episode, the male dater who contacted the show actually was in the habit of emailing or texting his dates a survey after their initial date. No – I am not making this up. I think this would be considered the love child of and Survey Monkey…

So how did we get to this point? I personally think that we live in a world of survey overload because of 4 major trends: the first is that surveys are less-time consuming for companies than having an actual conversation with humans. The second is the impression that surveys gather objective data, whereas conversations gather purely subjective data. This is the “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” school of thought. The third is the “herd mentality." Everyone else is administering surveys, shouldn’t we? Lastly, many surveys are now required by regulatory agencies.

Before being typecast as some anti-survey heretic, let me unequivocally state that as the Founder and CEO of a company that (amongst other things) administers surveys, I think that the information derived from surveys can be incredibly valuable. IF the completed surveys represent an accurate picture of the total customer population and IF the survey is well-constructed, then, surveys can be valuable.

Given the above, what can/should ambulatory surgical facilities do in this age of survey overload? I think there are 4 easy steps that every facility can take to increase the percentage of patients that complete surveys and, most importantly, the percentage of patients that answer each survey question thoughtfully vs reflexively.

  1. Surveys are impersonal – Add the personal touch. Have your preop staff and PACU staff tell patients that they will be receiving a survey. Tell them WHY completing the survey accurately and honestly will lead to better patient care, AND follow this up with an example of something your facility has changed because of patient feedback. Patients will gladly give you honest feedback if they know that their feedback is going to have an impact. 
  2. Lead by example: If you are an administrator, try to make it a habit to spend a few minutes every day talking to patients. Most patients will reflexively say “everything is great” because they don’t want to offend. The way to get past this and get meaningful info is to respond: “That’s wonderful. I’m glad everything went well for you. But we are always looking to get better. If there’s one thing that we could do to improve, what would it be?” You’ll be amazed how much information this one simple follow up question can get you. In addition, you’ll be amazed the impression it leaves on patients that the boss cares enough to spend time talking to them. It also sets a tremendous example for your staff about the importance of patient feedback.
  3. Choose Quality over Quantity - Make facility-designed surveys short, sweet and meaningful.  The content of some surveys is predetermined by regulatory agencies. But, when you can, ask just 5 questions or less; BUT, ask what you consider to be the 5 most important questions to make your outpatient surgery center better.  
  4. Lastly, choose a method of delivering the survey (if that is an option) that is most convenient for your patients. Text and email are better options than daytime phone calls to busy patients.

That’s it. Hopefully, this blog will get you thinking about surveys and how you can make ambulatory surgery center surveys more valuable.

Please take a moment to rate this blog on a 0 – 5 scale, 0=strongly disagree, 5= strongly agree…. LOL

About the Author: Stephen Punzak, MD is a practicing Anesthesiologist as well as the CEO of One Medical Passport. He founded One Medical Passport because he has always had a vision of how healthcare could run more efficiently using technology.  He frequently writes on medical topics, workflow efficient measures and ASC industry trends. 

Stephen Punzak MD

Written by Stephen Punzak MD

Dr. Stephen Punzak, M.D., Founded One Medical Passport in 2000 and serves as its Chief Executive Officer. For the past 17 years Dr. Punzak has worked as an anesthesiologist for large tertiary hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers.