If you are only using quantitative methods such as digital surveys to gain an understanding of your market, you could have unseen factors undermining your hospital’s marketing strategy. Simple surveys provide a valuable snapshot of consumer attitudes and opinions, as well as areas you need improvement. But they only paint half the picture. 

Quantitative Provides Broad Vision, Qualitative Exposes the Blind Spots

Without adding context to your digital surveys results, you risk insufficient understanding of your patients’ experience. Context adds depth and richness to your understanding and can go a long way towards ensuring that your message is aligned with the experience you are delivering for your patients and other key stakeholders. And often this context can be effectively illuminated and captured by leveraging qualitative research methods to supplement your baseline survey data. 

When engaging in qualitative research, it’s not uncommon to discover issues along the patient journey that often fly under the radar. Qualitative approaches (including ethnographic interviews, immersions, and occasionally small focus groups) are more holistic and contextual in their approach and provide a useful means by which we can uncover these implicit challenges and bring them to the surface for further examination. 

Where Common Patient Satisfaction Surveys Fall Short: Forcing Assumptions

To show how digital surveys tell you where to look for improvements but may overlook opportunities to understand the real patient experience, we found a few of the most common questions used in patient satisfaction surveys. 

Q: Overall, how would you rate the professionalism of the staff at our office?

  • Excellent 
  • Very good
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Poor

One popular question is to rate the professionalism of the physician, nurses, and other staff within the four walls of the hospital during your visit. In this instance, if you were to receive data that represents negative responses, you’re left in the dark to interpret how the patient’s experience was unprofessional. 

At face value, we might assume that this research reflects how the patient was treated. But, if we were to look deeper, a focus group or interview participant might offer a more complete picture of the experience that we can actually frame improvements on which you might not have even considered. 

For example, perhaps the care that the patient received was great, but they were left non-plussed by the overall appearance of the practice and the staff—maybe they were wearing wrinkled scrubs, or the reception area was cluttered and messy when checking in. In this case, the patient’s perception of the practice and care is influenced not by the care itself, but adjacent values that are important to him or her ultimately reflecting on other dimensions of the experience. As a patient, you expect a certain level of appearance from the people taking care of you, and first impressions are critical for increased patient satisfaction and decreased apprehension. In the case of professionalism, your staff could be world-class, professional communicators and be rated “Poor” for sloppy appearance and a bad first impression. 

This is a prime example of how research data from a short, 5-minute survey can prove insufficient and leave gaps open for interpretation. 

Quantitative methods, while invaluable investigative tools, should be used in conjunction with other quantitative AND qualitative methods. Otherwise, you’re making the gamble as a marketer that the right questions are being asked. Another common, albeit better worded question would be: “How would you rate the level of respect you were treated with by the staff in our office?” You might not find out about your appearance issues with that question, but you will find the right answer. 

Likewise, a quick 5-minute follow-up phone call with an open-ended question about the staff’s professionalism would provide more than enough fruitful context to save time and headache, as well as investment dollars towards professionalism workshops. 

Where Common Patient Satisfaction Surveys Fall Short: Focusing on the “What” Instead of the “Why”

Q: Overall, how satisfied or dissatisfied were you with your last visit to our hospital?

  • Very Satisfied
  • Somewhat Satisfied
  • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
  • Somewhat dissatisfied
  • Very dissatisfied

Ah, the most common satisfaction question. “How satisfied are you by your visit?” This question is a common case of being too focused on knowing the ‘what’ instead of understanding the ‘why’. If your patient leaves the four walls of your hospital dissatisfied, you’ll know it, but you won’t have any idea as to why. Leaving this question to interpretation risks the integrity of your marketing message matching the experience of your community—the patients you serve—which is a major land mine to your overall strategy. 

Don’t justify more quantitative data points at the expense of qualitative context; instead, layer qualitative methods into your market research approach. It takes context to complete the picture and context often unveils itself through conversation and observation. It might take a little bit more time, but taking that next step saves time and money down the road. 

Lastly, it brings up an important point of looking and listening in the right places during your research. Asking questions only related to inside the walls of the operating room, or in this case, the general hospital, can leave you hanging on where the true issue lies.

Where Common Patient Satisfaction Surveys Fall Short: Overlooking Opportunities to Gain Understanding

Q: How well did your provider listen to your needs?

  • Extremely well
  • Very well
  • Somewhat well
  • Not so well
  • Not at all well

It can’t be emphasized enough the importance of understanding the lived experience of your consumers. How did the provider miss the mark? What IS the mark that providers should be striving to hit?” Did they not listen to your prescription concerns? Were they unclear even when you told them you didn’t understand treatment options? The follow-up questions are infinite here, but critically important to completing the bigger picture your quant data is painting. 

Q: Is there anything we could have done to improve your last visit?

The final question appears to be an open-ended question due to the text field, allowing patients to fill-in an answer. But it’s actually a yes or no question. The wording of your survey questions is equally as important as your methods. One way to put your survey to the test is to try it with a few of your staff or colleagues. You’ll quickly find which questions provide the most context, and which ones need to be tweaked.

Lacking a nuanced and contextualized understanding of patient experience risks your entire marketing strategy. Using a mixed-methods approach will illuminate inefficiencies and issues that you wouldn’t ordinarily catch and aligns your message with the experience of the patients you serve. Meeting your patients at ground level through conversation will increase competencies for all stakeholders involved and create positive marketing outcomes. 

One Final Note

An efficient tactic to getting to know your patients’ lived experience is by getting to know the voice of your community. Check out the second part of this blog series, where we’ll explore higher-level design thinking and bigger picture marketing approaches such as community-based marketing and mixed-methods research approaches.

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