Online surveys: A solution for helping patients better manage health

How can hospital and health system providers help patients better manage their health?

Patients, particularly those who have been hospitalized in the past, often struggle to follow prescribed treatments and stay on track with health management. Many want, and could benefit from, ongoing support from their healthcare team. But finding efficient, cost-effective ways to engage patients, monitor their health and help them remain on course with treatment plans is challenging. One step healthcare teams can take to support patients is to employ patient surveys.

When it comes to surveys, patients and providers are likely most familiar with healthcare satisfaction surveys. While these surveys play an important role in healthcare, hospital and health system providers have opportunities to expand beyond satisfaction surveys and use several other types of surveys to support patients. For example, post-discharge surveys, remote health monitoring surveys and gaps in care surveys deliver insights about what patients need to successfully stay on track with health management.

According to a West survey of 1,036 adults and 317 healthcare providers in the U.S., one-third (33%) of patients would like their medical team to utilize surveys to check in on their progress and determine whether they are following treatment plans correctly. Not only have surveys garnered interest among patients, but healthcare teams consider them attractive because they are easy to implement and use. Healthcare organizations can leverage the same technology they already use for appointment reminders to send patients messages inviting them to participate in online surveys.

Despite how simple surveys are to use, and despite patients’ willingness to participate in surveys and their desire for support, few hospital and health system providers have survey strategies in place. West’s survey revealed that a mere 11 percent of healthcare providers say they administer automated online surveys or check-ins to monitor patients and determine if they are following treatment plans. Many more healthcare organizations could be capitalizing on opportunities to use surveys to support patients with health management.

Using surveys to keep patients on plan
Different survey types deliver different data and benefits. Post-discharge surveys provide insights about patients who have recently been released from the hospital. Remote monitoring surveys are useful for monitoring high-risk or chronic patients. Gaps in care surveys can identify issues that derail health management and provide opportunities to plan additional support to keep patients on track. Using one or a combination of these surveys enables healthcare teams to better understand and support patients.

Post-discharge surveys
After being discharged from the hospital patients are at risk for pain and other symptoms that can cause complications and lead to readmission. To support the recovery of patients who have recently been released from the hospital, and to prevent avoidable readmissions, healthcare teams can utilize post-discharge survey check-ins. Within 24-48 hours after patients are released, hospital staff can send email or text message invitations asking patients to complete online surveys. During this immediate transition period it is important to determine if patients are in pain, are taking prescribed medications correctly, have developed any worrisome symptoms or have questions about discharge instructions. Post-discharge surveys might include questions like:

• Have you picked up your prescription from the pharmacy?
• Have you missed any doses of your medication?
• Has your level of pain increased since leaving the hospital?
• Are you experiencing new or worsening symptoms?
• Do you have questions about the instructions you received for following your care plan?
• Have you scheduled a follow-up appointment with your physician?

Surveying patients about topics (like pain) that are known to lead to readmissions allows medical teams to quickly recognize and address issues before they grow into larger problems. Based on patients’ survey responses, staff may call patients to follow up, schedule additional survey check-ins or take other actions to support patients and ensure they are able to manage their health effectively at home.

Patients typically respond well to post-discharge surveys. According to West’s survey, 40 percent of Americans with complex health issues say they would be very motivated to complete a survey if it would prevent them from being readmitted to the hospital. Because post-discharge surveys can help prevent readmissions, hospitals should strive to reach out to every patient with a survey invitation shortly after their release.

Remote health monitoring surveys
Similar to post-discharge surveys, remote health monitoring surveys can also be used to check in with patients and monitor symptoms, capture health metrics and see how health is progressing. These surveys are frequently used to monitor chronic conditions (for short or long periods of time) and support chronic care. They can easily be tailored based on disease type. For example, patients with COPD may receive a remote monitoring survey with a question that asks:
When eating, are you:
• Able to eat without being out of breath?
• Slightly out of breath?
• Breathless or struggling to breathe?

Patients with other conditions, like CHF for example, might be asked different questions that look more like:
Regarding swelling, have you:
• Experienced no noticeable swelling in the past week?
• Had some swelling in your feet, ankles or waist?
• Had a lot of swelling in your feet, ankles or waist?

Monitoring surveys with questions similar to the previous examples help healthcare teams spot signs that diseases are not being managed successfully. If a patients’ survey responses indicate he meets a certain threshold—for example, if pain is not managed, new symptoms have developed or medication is causing problematic side effects—healthcare teams can follow up and intervene.

Interest in remote health monitoring surveys is high. West’s survey found that nearly 8 in 10 Americans with a chronic condition (79%) are interested in taking remote health monitoring surveys. Around 1 in 3 chronic patients say they will take a survey if providers follow up immediately (35%), providers respond and give them advice over the phone (38%) or they receive a text or chat follow up from their healthcare team (32%). By implementing remote health monitoring surveys, healthcare teams can help patients get ahead of problems, stay on course with treatments and proactively manage chronic conditions.

Infographic SurveysCarePlans 2 4

Gaps in care surveys
Sometimes patients get off track with health management because they face challenges their healthcare team does not know about. Gaps in care surveys can help healthcare teams uncover issues that cause patients to be non-compliant with care plans. For example, surveys might show that certain patients don’t have transportation to appointments or are struggling to afford care. When healthcare teams have this information, they can plan additional support to keep patients on track.

Imagine a patient with diabetes has been hospitalized multiple times because of complications related to his disease. The patient may be asked to complete a gaps in care survey to determine if he is taking the appropriate steps to manage his health and prevent future hospitalizations. The survey might ask questions like:

• Have you scheduled your next A1C test?
• Do you know the target goal for your A1C level?
• Do you need help finding transportation to your medical appointments?
• Would you like to meet with a care coordinator to discuss additional screenings and services that are available to help with diabetes management?

How the patient responds to these and other questions helps his healthcare team understand if he needs assistance with scheduling appointments or understanding what medical services are recommended for diabetes management. Based on this information, staff can determine how to follow up with additional support.

West’s survey found that 92 percent of healthcare providers believe gaps in care surveys are useful, and 78 percent of Americans with a chronic health condition are interested in taking this type of survey.

If healthcare providers are willing to expand their use of surveys, they will be able to identify when patients are struggling and find ways to support health management. Whether healthcare teams want to follow up with patients after they have been discharged from the hospital, monitor the health of chronic patients or learn who is overdue for services and help them get back on track, surveys are a simple and effective solution.

About the Author

Allison Hart is a regularly-published advocate for utilizing technology-enabled communications to engage and activate patients beyond the clinical setting. She leads thought leadership efforts for West’s TeleVox Solutions, promoting the idea that engaging with patients between healthcare appointments in meaningful ways will encourage and inspire them to follow and embrace treatment plans - and that activating these positive behaviors ultimately leads to better outcomes for both healthcare organizations and patients. Hart currently serves as Vice President of Marketing at West (, where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when, and how healthcare is delivered.


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