The future of patient feedback is already here. Is your organization ready for it?

The future of the healthcare industry has arrived—with a jolt.

The strains and stresses of COVID-19 have forced healthcare systems to act on their feet, nimbly adjusting to the demands of the day. Far from slowing the pace of healthcare innovation, COVID-19 has wildly accelerated it.

Long-stalled initiatives, like widely available telehealth or easy online appointment bookings, have become mainstays of life under COVID-19. Patients have gotten used to these conveniences—which means, in a post-coronavirus world, they’re not going anywhere.

The time, therefore, is ripe for healthcare organizations to bring their customer experience in line with these digital innovations. It’s time to embrace the future of patient feedback. Here’s how.

Modernizing data collection

Good data is the bedrock of health-system strategy. Organizations will rise and fall with the reliability of their customer intelligence. Healthcare leaders should therefore deploy the following three tactics to secure rapid, robust and highly contextualized information about their patients.

1) Use modernized interfaces.

The digital revolution has totally upended modern life, but CAHPS has not yet fully embraced it. For the most part, surveys are still administered in outdated modalities, like phone calls or mail-in forms, that fail to galvanize consumers to participation. That may be why average HCAHPS response rates hover around 26.7%.1

Meeting consumers where they are will improve the situation immensely. NRC Health’s own research has found that patients overwhelmingly prefer2 to give their feedback shortly after the care encounter, and to do it digitally. Among a cohort of NRC Health partners, in fact, shifting from paper-based surveys to digital delivery improved response rates among Millennials by as much as 22%.

2) Give data its context.

There’s no doubt as to the utility of CAHPS’s data. Its quantitative approach gives organizations and policymakers a useful means of standardizing healthcare-satisfaction measures. Where the data excels in objectivity, however, it suffers for a lack of contextual richness.

First, there’s the context surrounding the care encounter. While leaders of course want to know how patients feel about their in-facility experiences, they also want to understand patients’ thoughts before and after the encounter. These are urgent considerations that CAHPS has a very limited capacity to address.

Context, too, refers to experience as captured in the patient’s own words. Multiple-choice forms don’t lend themselves to nuance, but it’s precisely the nuances of an experience that make it meaningful for many consumers. The tone and texture of a consumer’s interactions contribute to a halo effect that can make or break their relationship with an organization. Open-ended patient comments are the best— perhaps the only—way to capture these less-tangible features of the encounter.

Using data effectively

With strong data in hand, health systems can make informed choices about how to shape relationships with their customers. Here are some places to start.


Calls for healthcare transparency have risen to an unprecedented crescendo. Today, 60% of consumers select their doctor based primarily on online ratings and reviews, CMS has mandated that hospitals publish their pricing, and new (and well-funded) startups are rising to offer healthcare transparency to consumers every year.

This is an irresistible trend, and one that health systems would be welladvised to lead. Not every dimension of transparency will be readily available to every organization. But offering a full, authoritative view of experience data via their own digital domain is an excellent way for healthcare organizations to seize the initiative.

Staying connected

Finally, as organizations better understand their customers, they’ll be able to play a broader role in patients’ lives.

NRC Health’s research has found that customers are ready for these deeper connections with their providers. They don’t just want providers who will manage their illness or injury; they want organizations that can help them preserve their wellness, properly contextualize their health decisions, and offer them reliable information and guidance (especially in these trying times).

Customers, in effect, are inviting providers into their lives. But organizations should take care not to mistake this invitation for an opportunity to be intrusive. Health systems will need to exercise tact and restraint, and continue to communicate with patients according to their evolving preferences.10 Successfully managing that, of course, will depend on well-founded customer data.

The future of feedback is here

At first blush, the rigors of patient-data analysis may seem intimidating. But the good news for health-system leaders is this: the requisite tools to achieve all of the above are ready at hand for those organizations that are ready to use them. In a brand-new white paper, NRC Health spells out how.

The Future of Feedback white paper expands on the ideas explored here, including new insights into CAHPS’s most urgent upgrades, best practices for rapid feedback analysis, AI-augmented dataprocessing solutions, ways in which leading organizations have already implemented these changes and more.

For healthcare leaders who want to use modern tools to shape feedback’s future, the full white paper is available here.

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