The value of gathering patient experience data

Posted Oct 31, 2018

Kyle Kemp, Senior Data Manager and Lead, HQCA, talks about the importance of patient experience surveys and how they can help capture the patient perspective to ultimately improve healthcare. 

You have just received a telephone call, knock on the door, letter in the mail, or an email asking you to complete a survey about your experience. You might get these requests after you visit your local bank, grocery store, fast food restaurant, or even healthcare clinic or hospital. Like many, you may ask, “Why should I do this?”, or “Why do they want this information?” These are important questions to ask and get answers to.

I may be a bit biased (part of my job is to analyze experience surveys), however I think there is tremendous value in getting feedback directly from customers. To illustrate this point, here is an example from my own family from earlier this year.

One night, in the rush between work, school, home, and the soccer field, our family stopped for dinner at a favourite fast-food restaurant. My wife and two young sons proceeded to find a table. After I placed our order, I was waiting at the counter when my attention was grabbed by a set of screens behind the counter, above the drive-thru window.

I quickly realized that these screens provided indicators about drive-thru performance. Staff were receiving information about things like time taken to serve each car, and the number of cars served in an hour. Data was displayed in red, yellow, or green, depending on how they were doing. Their own ranking was also compared with other drive-thrus across the city.

I received our order and returned to the table to tell my wife about these performance measures. She was quick to angrily reply that she had just had to clean up other people’s garbage, and wipe globs of ketchup off a table and chair, all while keeping our little ones out of trouble. Despite having one of the fastest drive-thrus in the city at the time, my wife’s experience was more strongly impacted by the lack of cleanliness in the restaurant. My wife’s experience wasn’t captured on that set of screens, but could have provided some important feedback to this hard-working team.

Like my example from the fast-food industry, there is a huge potential benefit in asking “customers” of the healthcare system (e.g., patients and their families) about their experience. Patient experience data is used to assess care processes and interactions with staff, through the eyes of patients and family members. This feedback can be a tremendous catalyst for change. It can also serve as a valuable teaching tool, and for giving credit when patients and family members have reported receiving great care.

Patient experience data can be a wonderful compliment to a hospital or organization’s existing set of performance measures, as patients and families can provide information not readily available with traditional performance measures. For example, a hospital may note that their emergency department revisit rate is high compared to their peers (a common performance indicator; a high rate is seen as an indicator of poorer performance). Patient feedback can be used to help determine why this is happening. Patients may report that they did not receive clear instructions on how to care for themselves when returning home from hospital, or that they did not understand how and when to take their newly-prescribed medications. Addressing these patient concerns may minimize additional burdens to patients, families, and the healthcare system, and may also improve the revisit rate.

As I mentioned before, it is my job to analyze and report the data gathered from experience surveys. At the Health Quality Council of Alberta, this means patient (primary care and emergency department), resident (supportive living), client (home care) and family (long-term care) experience surveys. By staying in touch with those we share our reports with, I also have the opportunity to see how this data ultimately helps improve healthcare for Albertans.

So, the next time you are asked to participate in a survey about your care, please consider saying “yes!”. Your voice makes a difference and the more voices and stories we can capture, the more impactful the data will be. To those of you who have already taken the time to provide feedback about the healthcare services that you or a family member has received, thank you. Whether it was by completing a survey, filling out a comment card, taking part in an interview or focus group, or by any other means, this information about your lived experience is invaluable! I hope that all Albertans continue to provide their feedback – good, neutral, and bad. It all helps improve the quality of care Albertans receive.

To learn more about the HQCA, our mandate, or our current surveys, please go to

HQCAMatters is published monthly and presents HQCA representative perspectives on topics or issues relevant to healthcare in Alberta.