Skip to content

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

This article also appeared in the October issue of Becker’s Hospital Review here.

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

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

After all, existing instruments capture only a narrow vision of what patients experience. Today’s health systems need more. They need to truly hear the voice of their customers. They need a comprehensive Voice of the Customer platform, to more fully understand those whom they serve not just as patients, but as people.

Fortunately for them, the tools required to effect such improvements are already at their disposal. Here’s how health systems can start using these tools in their own facilities.

Modernizing data collection

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

1) Pursue living survey content

Long-standing survey instruments, standard in the industry, have not significantly changed in more than a decade. Patients, however, certainly have.

Demographic and generational shifts have dramatically reshaped communities. Consumers’ needs and preferences, too, have kept pace with the innovations in our digitally connected economy. In such an environment, the rate of change is likely only to accelerate.

Experience surveys should reflect that spirit of change, and become living documents, continuously refreshed to suit the specific needs of health systems and the patients they serve. If surveys evolve as patients do, they will not only skirt the threat of obsolescence, but they will also produce more valid and more consistent data.

2) 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 For the most part, surveys are still administered in outdated modalities, like phone calls or mail-in forms, that fail to galvanize participation from consumers. That may be why average HCAHPS response rates hover around 26.7%.i

Meeting consumers where they are will improve the situation immensely. NRC Health’s own research has found that patients overwhelmingly preferii 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%.

3) 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 commentsiii 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 consumersiv select their doctor based primarily on online ratings and reviews, CMS has mandatedv 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 well-advised 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 domainsvi is an excellent way for healthcare organizations to seize the initiative.

 Service recovery

Health systems strive for high reliability, but leaders cannot expect perfection. What’s most crucial, then, is how organizations react to service errors, and recover the goodwill of their dissatisfied customers.

Effective service recovery requires both keen sensitivity and operational precision. Tone matters, and so does timing. Most patients, in fact, consider their loyalty un-recoverable if a mistake goes uncorrected for just one week.vii To seize the service recovery opportunity, health organizations will need to achieve a quick cadence of experience-data analysis—both to rapidly identify service mistakes, and to build the capacity to respond to them effectively.viii
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 wellnessix, properly contextualize their health decisions,x and offer them reliable information and guidance (especially in these trying timesxi.

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.xii 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 whitepaper expands on the ideas explored here, including new insights into CAHPS’s most urgent upgrades, best practices for rapid feedback analysis, AI-augmented data-processing 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 at

i Heath, S. (2019, May 1). HCAHPS Survey Non-Response Bias Impacts Scores, Practice Improvement. PatientEngagementHIT.

ii NRC Health. (2018). Consumer Confidence White Paper.

iii NRC Health. (2019a). Not Just The Numbers: Enriched insights through Real-time Feedback.

iv Ibbotson, A. (2018). Patients Trust Online Reviews As Much As Doctor Recommendations (And Other Shocking Facts About Transparency In Healthcare). Health IT Outcomes.

v Ehnes, C., Dauner, C. D., & Dougherty, T. (2020). 10 Things to Expect from the New Hospital Price Transparency Rule | Health Affairs. Health Affairs.

vi NRC Healh. (2018, July 3). 290,000 patients agree—Your website matters! NRC Health.

vii NRC Health. (2020). 2020 Healthcare Consumer Trends Report. NRC Health. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from

viii NRC Health. (2019b). Using Real-time Feedback and Transparency for Radical Hospital Transformation.

ix Wynn, B. (April, 2019). Who owns the patient experience? Becker’s Hospital Review. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from

x Jackson, S. (2018). The patient as consumer: A shift in perspective to better measure success. Becker’s Hospital Review.

xi NRC Health. (2020, April 10). Consumer-sentiment data on the coronavirus pandemic, April 2020. NRC Health.

xii NRC Health. (2018b). Customer Intelligence Platform—Our Work With Community Health Network.