The CAHPS Program

The Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS®) program is a multi-year initiative of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Its purpose is to support investigator-led research to better understand patient experience with health care and develop scientifically valid and feasible strategies and tools to:

  • Assess patient experience.
  • Report survey results.
  • Help organizations use the results to improve the quality of care.

For more than 20 years, research conducted under the CAHPS program has led to the development and widespread use of a variety of standardized patient surveys that enable health care providers, purchasers, and regulators to track, compare, and improve patients' experiences in different health care settings. The program has also supported a rigorous and broad research portfolio to ensure that CAHPS survey users can make informed decisions when designing and administering a survey to their populations of interest. In keeping with its mission as a research agency, AHRQ does not mandate the use of any CAHPS surveys or the use of any specific CAHPS sampling or survey administration methods.

Brief History

AHRQ first launched the CAHPS program in October 1995 in response to concerns about the lack of good information about the quality of health plans from the enrollees' perspective. At that time, numerous public and private organizations collected information on enrollee and patient satisfaction, but those surveys varied from sponsor to sponsor, often changed from year to year, and did not provide actionable information on what actually happened during the delivery of care (i.e., the experience of care).

Over time, the program has expanded beyond its original focus on health plans to address a range of health care services and settings to meet the various needs of health care consumers, purchasers, health plans, providers, and policymakers. The CAHPS program is currently in its fifth stage, referred to as CAHPS V, which continues the work of earlier CAHPS grants (I-IV). The CAHPS V program also encompasses research to further understanding of patients' experiences with patient safety, care coordination, shared decisionmaking, and patient engagement.

The CAHPS Consortium

Since 1995, AHRQ has been awarding 5-year grants to private organizations to plan and conduct research for the CAHPS program. Collectively, the Agency and these research organizations are known as the CAHPS Consortium. The Consortium is responsible for conceiving, developing, testing, and refining CAHPS surveys and conducting research on the various uses of survey data.

Another responsibility of the Consortium is to determine whether patient experience surveys submitted to AHRQ by other survey developers meet the criteria for using the trademarked CAHPS name. To learn about the criteria and the survey submission process, please request a copy of "Getting the CAHPS® Trademark: A Guide for Survey Developers" (revised June 2017) from the CAHPS User Network at or 1-800-492-9261.

CAHPS Grantees

  • CAHPS V (2017–2022), CAHPS IV (2012–2017), and CAHPS III (2007–2012)
    • Yale School of Public Health (previously referred to as the Harvard team)
    • RAND
  • CAHPS II (2002–2007)
    • Harvard Medical School
    • RAND
    • American Institutes for Research (AIR)
  • CAHPS I (1996 to 2001)
    • Harvard Medical School
    • RAND
    • Research Triangle Institute (RTI)

Westat provides support to the CAHPS Consortium, assists users of CAHPS products through the CAHPS User Network, and manages the CAHPS Database.

Current Work of the CAHPS Consortium

The two CAHPS grantees–Yale and RAND—pursue a variety of research projects, some of which are conducted collaboratively across the two research teams. This work includes:

  • The development and testing of new surveys (e.g., to measure experiences with mental health care, including treatment for substance use disorders; to measure experiences with end-of-life care).
  • The development and testing of survey items on specific topics (e.g., shared decision-making) and for specific purposes (e.g., eliciting patients' comments).
  • Refinements to existing surveys.
  • Efforts to improve the effectiveness of survey administration methods.
  • Studies of uses of CAHP survey results.
  • Evaluations of efforts to improve patient experience.

Review summaries of select research projects.

Collaboration With Other Federal Agencies

Federal agencies that have played a role in the CAHPS program include the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), and the National Cancer Institute. These agencies are all part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Page last reviewed October 2018
Page originally created January 2012
Internet Citation: The CAHPS Program. Content last reviewed October 2018. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.
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