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5 Tips for Making Good Use of Patient Experience Data

By Kimberly Mitchell | Thursday, August 27, 2015

The sheer volume and variety of patient experience data can be overwhelming. In this post, IHI Improvement Advisor Kevin Little, PhD, recommends ways to organize this information to make meaningful improvements in care. He is faculty for IHI's Expedition: Putting Your Patient Experience Data to Work.


Organizations face a number of challenges when trying to understand patient experience data. The types of data you can collect and analyze is diverse and wide ranging, from patient satisfaction surveys to complaints. It can be tough to identify and organize all of it. Most difficult of all is putting the data into action to improve patient care. It may be helpful to focus on five key steps to make the most of your efforts.

  1. Take inventory of existing data.
    More than likely, somewhere in your health system someone is already accumulating patient experience data. Find out where. Learn what kinds of data your organization collects.

    In the US, you can start with cataloging the data collected for government-mandated measures. This includes CAHPS survey data for hospitals and CG-CAHPS survey data for primary care settings. In addition to survey data, your organization may also collect other kinds of patient care experience information such as complaints from patients, observations made by staff or senior leaders, or feedback from focus groups.
  2. Learn how your organization uses data for improvement.
    Ask who in your organization is reviewing patient experience data, how often, and for what purpose. For example, organizations that have successfully improved the patient experience recognize that formal survey data are just one type of information to consider. They also use methods such as patient shadowing and engaging their patient and family advisory council to integrate the voice of patients and families into improvement activities.
  3. Don’t collect data unless you’re going to use it.
    My colleague Lucy Savitz at Intermountain Healthcare says we have an ethical obligation to use patient experience data that we collect. If data are just being assembled and then passed on, but not used, that’s a missed opportunity. Unused data also wastes the time of our staff and our patients.
  4. Be clear about the value of collecting patient experience data.
    The growing need to accurately gather and analyze large volumes of data that only patients can provide – for example, on pain, ability to function, quality of life – will mean new challenges. Clinicians will have to see the value of collecting this patient-reported outcomes (PRO) data because they will likely be the ones making the case to patients about why they should provide their candid feedback. Unless the value of collecting and acting on such data is clear, providers won’t want to collect it and patients will not reliably offer it.

    For example, a group of orthopedic surgeons who want to analyze their PRO data to identify trends or patterns will be motivated to gather the information. You won’t have to convince them. They may, however, need some scripted language to help patients understand that completing these surveys every few months will help improve their care and the care of patients like them.
  5. Learn by testing. 
    The Model for Improvement is a fundamental framework to help you learn. As you work to improve your use of patient experience data, think about informative tests you can carry out. You will need to adapt general advice on patient experience data, customizing solutions relevant to your organization and the patients you serve. What can you test starting today?

    In the example above of the surgeons who need to explain to patients why PRO surveys are valuable for improving care, an initial test might be a single trial of the conversation between one surgeon and one patient. This test could help determine the words to use, decide when in the clinical encounter to introduce the topic, and how the patient reacts to the exchange. The “rule of 1” (one clinician, one encounter, one patient) is an excellent way to focus your test so you can learn something in an hour or less.

    The demands related to patient experience data are only growing, especially as payers and regulators impose data requirements. The need to develop reliable systems for collection and analysis of data is more important than ever. Keeping things as simple as possible and engaging patients and providers in the development process will be essential.

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