CAHPS Glossary

The following definitions are offered as a reference for users of CAHPS products as well as researchers and media organizations. If you would like to see an explanation of any other terms or phrases, please let us know at

Ambulatory Care CAHPS (A-CAHPS)

Ambulatory Care CAHPS, or A-CAHPS, is the programmatic initiative to develop and support survey instruments that assess the quality of ambulatory care from the perspective of patients. Surveys produced under A-CAHPS include the CAHPS Clinician & Group Survey and the CAHPS Health Plan Survey.


CAHPS stands for "Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems." The name represents a standardized approach to gathering, analyzing, and reporting information on consumers' and patients' experiences with health care services.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is currently overseeing the fifth in a series of 5-year cooperative agreements for the CAHPS program, usually referred to as CAHPS V (or CAHPS 5). CAHPS I extended from 1995 to 2001; CAHPS II was 2002 to 2007, CAHPS III was 2007 to 2012, and CAHPS IV was 2012 to 2017. Each period involved a group of grantees focused on a specific set of goals and priorities.

CAHPS Consortium

The CAHPS Consortium refers to the research organizations involved in the development, dissemination, and support of CAHPS products. The current Consortium includes AHRQ, RAND, the Yale School of Public Health, and Westat. Federal partners have included the the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

CAHPS Database

The CAHPS Database is a repository for data from select CAHPS surveys, including the CAHPS Health Plan Survey and the CAHPS Clinician & Group Survey. Participants in the CAHPS Database gain access to comparative data for assessing their own scores, including relevant benchmarks. The Database is sponsored by AHRQ and administered by Westat.

CAHPS Products or Surveys

These terms can be used interchangeably to refer to the various CAHPS surveys that are currently available or in development. Each product focuses on a given level of the health care system (e.g., health plans, behavioral health organizations, group practices and individual providers, nursing homes) and includes surveys as well as instructions for fielding the survey, programs for analyzing the data, and guidelines for reporting the results.

When referring to all CAHPS products, the term "CAHPS family of surveys" is also appropriate. To review the current family of surveys, go to CAHPS Surveys and Guidance.

CAHPS User Network

The CAHPS User Network refers to the educational programs and technical support that Westat offers under contract to AHRQ. The User Network is responsible for making CAHPS products available to the public, educating and informing survey users and stakeholders, supporting the Consortium, and providing users with free technical assistance.

Composite Measures

Composite measures, sometimes referred to as reporting composites, combine two or more related survey items into one indicator of patient experience. Examples include “How well providers communicate with patients” and “Health plan customer service.” By summarizing patients’ reports on a specific aspect of health care, composite measures make it possible to present survey results in a way that is concise but still comprehensive. Composite measures from the core items in CAHPS surveys undergo statistical testing to ensure that they are reliable and valid measures of patient experience.


In the context of CAHPS surveys, the term "consumers" refers to two types of people:

  • Those who could take a survey about their experience with health care, including patients, parents and guardians of children, nursing home residents and their families, and health plan enrollees.
  • Those who could use the results of the survey to inform themselves about their options and choose among providers or plans.

Core Items

In a CAHPS survey, the core items are questions designed to do the following:

  • Assess a domain that is the responsibility of a specific level of the health care system;
  • Obtain a global evaluation (rating);
  • Define respondent characteristics; or
  • Confirm the validity of the information (i.e., confirm that the consumer has actually experienced care from the specified provider or plan).

Items designated as "core" must be included in a survey instrument in order for it to be referred to as a CAHPS® survey. Use of the core items is critical to maintaining the comparability of CAHPS survey results.

The core items in a given domain may not be the same across different health care settings. For example, the questions asked about access to care from health plans are different than the questions asked about access to care from clinicians.


Domains are broad functional areas covered by CAHPS surveys, such as access to care or communication. In selecting domains for each survey, the CAHPS Consortium uses the following criteria:

  • They are important for reaching and maintaining a high level of quality of care.
  • They are important to consumers in selecting health care.
  • They are aspects of care for which consumers are the best or only source of information.

In the context of a specific survey, a domain can be addressed by multiple survey items and represented by more than one composite measure. The domain of “communication,” for example, could include communication with nurses, communication about medicines, and communication about self-care at home.


The macro is a free set of SAS® programs you can use to analyze the data for each product and generate the survey results. The macro and instructions for using the programs are available for every CAHPS survey.

Sponsors and Users

Both of these terms refer to the various public and private organizations that use the results of CAHPS surveys, including health care organizations, public agencies, purchasers, and others.

However, the two are not interchangeable. The term sponsors refers specifically to organizations that fund the administration of a CAHPS survey. Users of CAHPS surveys include sponsors as well as other organizations that may use survey results for public reporting, quality improvement, research, or other purposes.

Supplemental Items

Supplemental items allow survey sponsors to ask about domains or functions not included in the core questionnaire, to obtain greater detail on a specific domain or function, or to examine other characteristics of respondents.


Vendors are contracting organizations that support sponsors in implementing CAHPS surveys. Vendors typically field the survey, prepare the data for analysis, and produce results using the analysis programs. Organizations that assist with designing and producing reports are also considered vendors. Learn about Hiring a Survey Vendor.

Page last reviewed August 2018
Page originally created October 2011
Internet Citation: CAHPS Glossary. Content last reviewed August 2018. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.
Back To Top