The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality plans to release a survey next month that providers can use to assess patient experience with telehealth visits.
AHRQ, which oversees and funds a suite of widely used patient experience surveys called Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS), will release the survey sometime in October as a beta version to any providers who want to use it, according to Caren Ginsberg, director of the CAHPS program at AHRQ during a recent call with Modern Healthcare.
AHRQ became interested in offering a survey with telehealth-related questions after the technology became more popular amid COVID-19. AHRQ’s 25-year-old CAHPS program has a survey for doctor’s office visits but it doesn’t ask questions relevant to telehealth, including asking patients if the format was easy to use.
The survey targets ambulatory care patients after in-person, video, or phone call visits with a clinician. Email or text interactions through a patient portal aren’t suitable for the survey. The survey won’t have the CAHPS logo because it hasn’t gone through the long approval process including field testing, but Ginsberg said AHRQ leaders thought it was important providers had access to the survey soon given the expanded use of telehealth.
“We think it will be very useful for organizations right now to understand how they are doing,” she said.
Providers have developed their own surveys to assess patient experience with telehealth or used ones developed by vendors such as Press Ganey. Most reports show patients are satisfied with telehealth although there are concerns the platform isn’t improving access for everyone, particularly those who don’t have reliable access to broadband or devices.
AHRQ received feedback from patients, providers and accreditation organizations about the beta version of the survey. Patients underwent cognitive testing to ensure the questions were interpreted as intended and the order of the survey made sense. Additionally, stakeholders were asked what information they would like to get from a telehealth survey.
The beta version includes questions about the value of instructions for accessing telehealth visits, ease of use. There are also questions similar to what’s in other CAHPS surveys related to communication and respect.
“All of that is going to be important in any survey for any encounter regardless of the format of that encounter,” Ginsberg said.
The results from the survey won’t be released publicly as is done for some of AHRQ’s other surveys because it’s not officially a CAHPS survey, Ginsberg said. Right now, doctor’s offices and health plans can voluntarily submit their survey data to AHRQ in order to compare themselves to their peers.
Dr. Hank Capps, chief digital health and engagement officer of Novant Health, said an official telehealth CAHPS survey would be appealing if results were released publicly because it would allow the system to compare itself to peers. Although he added if the survey has “onerous regulatory requirements that made it less valuable, such as requiring it to be (administered in a) paper format,” it’s less appealing.
Right now, Medicare requires hospitals to participate in the Hospital CAHPS survey, known as HCAHPS, but it must be administered through mail or phone, which hospital leaders say is outdated and unhelpful to them. Responding to those complaints, CMS plans to test in the spring a “web mode” version of multiple patient experience surveys and for HCAHPS, it will ask a nationally representative group of hospitals to participate, according to an agency spokeswoman. The testing is scheduled to begin in April 2021, but the spokeswoman said COVID-19 may cause delays.
Ginsberg said AHRQ releases guidance on its surveys but doesn’t require them to be administered in particular ways, rather regulators such as CMS make those rules. Because this is a voluntary survey, organizations can “administer it in whatever way is convenient for them” such as through a vendor, she said.
Novant, similar to other large health systems, has developed its own survey to assess patient’s experience with its telehealth platform. Patients receive the survey immediately after a telehealth visit through the patient portal and it can be completed on the moblie app or the web. Capps said Novant would continue to use its own survey even with the existence of a CAHPS telehealth survey because the information can be accessed right away and acted upon immediately.
“We are making real-time decisions based on the kind of responses that we get from our patients,” he said.