Find Out Why Some Patients Stop Coming: Get the Most Out Of Your Patient Satisfaction Surveys

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It’s your patient’s final visit before discharge, and so you do what you always do: update her home exercise program one last time, give her a t-shirt, tell her to call if she has any questions, and give her a patient satisfaction survey.  She fills out the survey, thanks you for helping her get back on her feet, and happily walks out the door with t-shirt in hand.  Later, you’re not at all surprised when you look at her satisfaction survey and find that she’s rated you as high as possible and commented “This place is the BEST”.

Later that week, you take time to go through that month’s patient satisfaction surveys.  Like always, nearly every patient has rated your clinic as either ‘Very Good’ or ‘Excellent’.  You walk away satisfied, knowing that you provided your patients with quality care.  While this process is certainly ego-boosting, it gives you little information on how to improve your care.  The fact is, by asking your patients to fill out their satisfaction surveys at discharge, you are ensuring biased data.

What percentage of your patients complete their entire recommended episode of care?  While it is likely that a majority of them do, there is still a fair amount that unexpectedly stop showing up. After unsuccessfully trying to reach one of these patients, if you’re anything like me, you come to one of two conclusions:

  • They are feeling much better, or
  • They aren’t motivated and don’t care about getting better

Coming to this conclusion is comforting in that we don’t absorb any of the blame for our patient’s non-compliance.  But, there is a chance that there was something we did that caused them to stop coming. In my opinion, finding out why one unsatisfied patient stopped coming to therapy is more valuable than 10 glowing reviews from happy customers.  The best metrics are actionable, and a negative review allows for action; you can truly learn your flaws and work to correct them.

So, how do you make sure you’re getting everything you need out of your patient satisfaction surveys? Make sure EVERY ONE of your patients has an opportunity to complete one.  Giving each of your patients an opportunity to voice their opinion, rather than just asking the patients that have successfully completed their journey, will do wonders in cutting some bias from your data.  You can do this by uniformly sending your survey to each patient a certain number of weeks after their initial evaluation:  we’ve found that sending surveys between 4 and 6 weeks after IE have yielded the highest percentage of surveys returned. There are a few options to achieve this:

1)      Direct Mail

Because you collected each of your patients’ addresses on their intake form, you can easily send each of your patients their satisfaction survey by mail.  In order to maximize the amount of surveys returned, you will need to provide a return envelope.  The most obvious con is a relatively higher cost of direct mail and administrative overhead to perform this task.

2)      Survey Monkey

You’ll need a patient’s e-mail if you’re going to use Survey Monkey or Google Forms.  While some patients are hesitant to give out their e-mail, if you include it on your intake form and explain why you want it, you will be much more successful.  Let your patients know that you will only use their address to send them a satisfaction questionnaire, and nothing else.  A clear and honest privacy policy can go a long way in building patient trust.

Survey Monkey will allow you to create a simple patient satisfaction survey, as well as analyze your results for free.  However, if you want additional features, you will have to pay a monthly fee.

3)      Google Forms

This option is a bit more labor intensive, and requires a bit more technical know-how than Survey Monkey.  However, if you take on the challenge, you will have access to slightly better analytics, can easily edit your survey, and it’s free.  One great thing about Google Forms is that it organizes all of your data into easy to read reports, making it much easier to analyze. Here is a great tutorial on how to get started, and here is Google’s troubleshooting page for Forms

Remember, even if you have a small percentage of patients return their surveys to you, you are still going to be collecting more useful data.  Physical therapy is a service industry;  we need to work to optimize each patient’s experience in order to be successful, and we need to learn from our mistakes in order to do so.

Ryan Klepps PT, DPT – TheraVid LLC.  

At TheraVid, we’re working to improve the process of patient relationship management. If you would like to discuss integrating better patient satisfaction surveys at your clinic, contact us at or via Twitter @TeamTheraVid