Designing a CAHPS Report

Based on testing with consumers and research into effective communications, the CAHPS Team offers the following recommendations to reporters of survey results:

  • Group survey questions on a similar topic to simplify and condense the reporting of survey results.
  • Offer summary comparison charts that show how health care organizations perform relative to each other.
  • Use a variety of navigational features.
  • Repeat key messages.
  • Be consistent about design choices.
  • Maintain a complementary design across related materials.

To learn more, go to Tips on Designing a Quality Report in AHRQ’s TalkingQuality Web site.

Group Survey Questions on a Similar Topic

A composite measure combines the results for two or more related items into a single score. The use of composites simplifies and condenses reports of survey results. It is also fundamental to standardizing the reporting of CAHPS survey results. The CAHPS Team has found that composites support the comprehensive reporting of survey results and contribute significantly to the effectiveness of the report formats.

To see how individual items are grouped into composite measures, review a list of CAHPS measures.

How are composite measures calculated? The documentation provided with each survey includes an analysis program that computes the statistical results for the graphs and charts contained in the reports. This program calculates the composites.

Offer Summary Comparison Charts

It is important to give consumers a way to see the "big picture" so that they can process a lot of information quickly. Consumers also want to be able to focus on a topic of particular interest and compare performance across plans or providers. One effective way to meet this need is to provide comparison charts that summarize and display differences in performance that are statistically significant.

Recent research suggests that performance information is most usable when consumers can easily distinguish between high and low performers. One way to do this is to provide a single summary score that brings together all of the information in the report. Another is to list health care organizations in rank order, from highest to lowest.1

For more guidance on display strategies, read How To Report Results of the CAHPS Clinician & Group Survey (PDF [ PDF file - 970.48 KB]).

Use a Variety of Navigational Features

To help consumers easily locate the information that interests them, incorporate a number of navigational features in your report. Examples include:

  • Clear labeling of CAHPS measures.
  • Links from summary charts to detailed graphics.
  • Modal windows to explain measures or provide additional detail.

Although it takes some extra effort to incorporate these navigational features, they contribute significantly to consumers' ability to find, understand, and use the information presented in the report.

Repeat Key Messages

Performance reports and promotional materials should repeat several key messages that are designed to support a longer-term educational and motivational agenda. These messages draw attention to the release of survey results and help consumers understand their importance. The repetition also reinforces the information and helps give a unified look to all of the CAHPS reporting products.

Key messages tested and incorporated into sample reports for the CAHPS Health Plan Survey included the following:

  • "Your health plan choice is important to the quality of the health care you receive."
  • "Not all health plans are alike."
  • "This information about experiences with health plans comes from people like you."
  • "The information from the CAHPS survey has been collected by an independent source, not by the health plans."

Be Consistent About Design Choices

Whether on paper or on the Web, the design and format you choose should allow you to present the same kind of information in the same way about every health care organization in the report. A consistent display of information across organizations reduces the likelihood of bias and makes it easier for consumers to compare their choices and make well-informed decisions.

Maintain a Complementary Design Across Related Materials

To help users recognize and recall your information, everything you produce—including reports for different audiences and promotional materials—should be compatible in design. If you also distribute other documents with information about health care (e.g., information on coverage or provider directories), consider coordinating the look of the CAHPS report with these other materials. You can use photographs, graphic elements, colors, and fonts to create a consistent and recognizable appearance.

Related Resources

Model Public Report Elements: A Sampler from AHRQ (archived)

How to Effectively Present Health Care Performance Data to Consumers from AHRQ (archived)

How to Display Comparative Information That People Can Understand and Use from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

1Hibbard JH, Peters E. Supporting informed consumer health care decisions: data presentation approaches that facilitate the use of information in choice. Annual Review of Public Health. 2003. 24:413-33.

Page last reviewed March 2016
Page originally created September 2013
Internet Citation: Designing a CAHPS Report. Content last reviewed March 2016. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/cahps/consumer-reporting/guidelines/design/index.html