Top tips for measuring patient experience

Surveys measuring patient experience in health care can provide important information on how care looks ‘through the patients’ eyes’. Organisations (big and small) are now routinely using patient reported experience as part of a ‘tool kit’ to measure and monitor quality of care. But getting started can be a bit of a minefield! Here are my top tips for measuring patient experience.

Focus on what matters most to patients

Humanity and compassion (being treated like a ‘real person’, not just a number) are highly valued by patients across a wide variety of health care contexts. There is evidence that good communication (see our recent paper here) also rates highly among the aspects of care that matter most to patients. For a useful introduction to some of the other core domains of patient experience it is worth taking a look at the Picker Institute, and the General Practice Patient Survey if you are interested in measuring patient experience in primary care. When choosing your survey questions keep in mind that what matters most to patients might vary depending on, for example, local context or type of disease. Adapting your survey to reflect this context can help make the results more useful for improving care.

Choose items carefully

Choosing which items to include in patient surveys is not straightforward! Often this involves carefully considering the psychometric properties of each item, and extensive cognitive testing with target respondent groups. Selecting items that (a) demonstrate appropriate levels of reliability (benchmark >.7), (b) show variation between providers, and (c) have capacity for improvement, can be useful (for more detail, see paper from CCHSR group).

Making comparisons between providers/organisations?
Think case-mix adjustment

Patient experience is increasingly being used to make comparisons between different health care providers. This can be a useful source of information for prospective patients, as well as health care managers. When making comparisons (e.g., between doctors, general practices, or hospitals) it is useful to think about whether you need to make any adjustment for patient case-mix (see our paper here on why case-mix adjustment might be important). Making fair and valid comparisons between providers/organisations is especially important in so-called ‘high stakes’ applications, that is, when pay-for-performance is linked to survey results.

One final caveat worth highlighting: surveys are only one way of getting insight into the patients’ experience of care – qualitative methods and social media (e.g., Twitter) also offer other useful opportunities for patients to communicate their experience of care.


Want to learn more?

Health Foundation: Ten tips for measuring patient and carer experience

Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research examples of our work on measuring patient experience in primary care


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  • The Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research (CCHSR) is a thriving collaboration between the University of Cambridge and RAND Europe. We aim to inform health policy and practice by conducting research and evaluation studies of organisation and delivery of healthcare, including safety, effectiveness, efficiency and patient experience.