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The evolution of CAHPS surveys & how to improve your score

6 min read
The Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) surveys were created to support quality improvement and a better patient experience. With many CAHPS surveys now tied to regulatory programs, reimbursement, and accreditations, how can healthcare organizations achieve the best results to enable them for success?


What are CAHPS surveys?

The Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) surveys assess patient experiences with medical facilities, healthcare providers, health plans, drug plans, and other healthcare agencies. The CAHPS program, which is overseen by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), relies on standardized questions and data protocols to help healthcare consumers make informed comparisons across healthcare settings.

CAHPS survey questions

Image source: ​​https://hcahps.org/en/survey-instruments/

What are the surveys used for?

The surveys are intended to aid in quality improvement efforts. Scores may affect federal payments issued to healthcare entities by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. A majority of CAHPS survey results are reported publicly for healthcare consumers to view on the Care Compare website.

Are CAHPS surveys mandatory?

While the program itself is not mandatory, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requires CAHPS survey administration for many value-based purchasing and other federal healthcare reimbursement programs.

CAHPS surveys that are not required by CMS, may be required for certain certification or accreditation programs. CAHPS program mandates also vary from state to state.

Learn more about our patient experience CAHPS solutions

How can you benefit from improving CAHPS survey scores?

The most important reason to improve your CAHPS scores is because it will be a reflection of your efforts to improve the quality of care for your patients! But you also stand to benefit in other ways from improving your scores.

Increase reimbursement and avoid penalties

CMS uses CAHPS survey scores to calculate reimbursement rates for many healthcare quality programs. The agency uses CAHPS results to reward healthcare entities for providing a higher quality of care rather than for the number of services provided.

Gain a competitive advantage

The majority of patients today are researching online before scheduling health care services. The public reporting of CAHPS results all in one place makes it easy for patients to compare facilities, services, and providers. On CMS’ Care Compare website, scores are compiled into star ratings to aid users in quickly evaluating quality of care.

With survey scores based on these criteria, it’s easy to see how your ratings can influence a patient’s likelihood to choose your organization over another.

You can use your scores for a competitive boost in your marketing efforts. For example: According to our HCAHPS survey results, 87% of our patients agree South Medical Center is the best hospital.

What are some CAHPS improvement strategies?

CAHPS surveys gather feedback about many critical areas of the patient experience, but improving scores can be a challenge for a few reasons.

  • Feedback is too delayed. By the time CAHPS results are reported to administrators, physicians, and staff, it has usually been weeks–and sometimes even months–since the visit that prompted the survey. This means trending areas of concern may go unrecognized for an extended period of time before any action is taken.
  • Context is lacking. CAHPS questions are standardized for benchmarking purposes and to help patients easily compare facilities, providers, or health plans. Without the flexibility to incorporate workflows, trigger additional questions based on survey responses, or analyze text comments, you may miss out on important contextual information needed to drive improvement.
  • Response rates are often low. CAHPS surveys are typically sent to a sample of patients, only a fraction of which will complete the survey. The fewer patients who provide feedback, the less insights you have to understand the drivers of patient satisfaction with your health system or facility.

This doesn’t mean improving your scores is a lost cause. You just need the right tools to supplement your CAHPS surveys.

Real-time feedback

Don’t let CAHPS be your only patient experience feedback survey. Send digital surveys to your wider patient base–not just a sample–to listen to patients in real-time. With this approach, you can take more timely action and even stop small problems from growing into major patient satisfaction obstacles.

Omni-channel listening

Uncover gaps in care that may be affecting your CAHPS survey scores by reaching out to patients across all channels of engagement with your organization. Listening to patients at every interaction along the patient journey, especially those not addressed on the CAHPS survey, can aid you in making changes at one touchpoint that will bridge gaps and improve experiences at other touchpoints.

Conversational analysis

Use AI tools to analyze patient free-text comments and contact center conversations to get to the heart of what is driving your patients’ CAHPS responses. Better gauge the emotion and sentiment behind your patients’ words to gain a clear understanding of both positive and negative experiences.

Closed-loop follow-up

Trigger actions and follow-up processes based on patient responses to address issues in the moment before they lead to negative CAHPS scores.

The future of CAHPS

CAHPS surveys are increasingly being adopted as quality measures in value-based purchasing programs and other reimbursement models. Many of the surveys that have been optional in the past are slated to become mandatory as payment models evolve. Whether you’re required to run CAHPS now or might be in the future, it’s a smart idea to adopt the tools and technology needed to achieve the best results.

Not only is Qualtrics approved to administer eleven CAHPS surveys, but our healthcare solution has all the tools you need to achieve optimal scores, all in one platform.

Learn more about our patient experience CAHPS solutions