CAHPS Surveys During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Given the rapid changes in healthcare delivery throughout the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers and health plans need to know how their efforts are affecting their patients. Feedback about patients’ experiences with care can help healthcare professionals understand whether they are effectively meeting their patients’ needs for care and information.
Deciding Whether and How to Administer a CAHPS Survey
- Mandated CAHPS surveys. AHRQ does not require the use of any CAHPS surveys. However, healthcare organizations required to survey patients or enrollees by an external organization, like the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), a state agency, or a payer or purchaser group, can consult with them about potential changes to their survey requirements. Website links and contact information for CAHPS surveys implemented by CMS can be found on the Contact CAHPS page. For information regarding NCQA requirements, visit Coronavirus and NCQA.
- Administering CAHPS surveys to telehealth patients. One of the greatest changes during the COVID-19 pandemic is the increase in telehealth visits, including real-time telephone and video visits and communication through patient portals. Healthcare organizations may want to include telehealth patients in the sampling frame for CAHPS surveys. It is important to assess how well patient needs are being met with this new predominance of telehealth visits.
- Adding supplemental items to assess telehealth. All CAHPS surveys include questions about patients’ experiences with access to care and communication with healthcare providers, but the existing core surveys do not have questions specific to telehealth and the quality of communication. Your organization may want to add questions at the end of the survey to learn about patients’ experiences with the technology you are using. To address emerging needs, the CAHPS Consortium is developing and testing survey items to assess patient experience with telehealth. In the meantime, your organization might want to adapt existing CAHPS supplemental items as needed:
- The CAHPS Health Information Technology Item Set includes questions about getting timely appointments through email or a website, getting timely answers to medical questions by email, and the helpfulness of a provider’s website or patient portal with respect to providing information about care and tests.
- The supplemental items available for the topic “Access” includes questions about wait times for appointments, care delivered after regular office hours, and wait times for care.
Please refer to the instructions about where to add supplemental items.
Acknowledging the Challenges We Are All Facing in Survey Invitation Materials
This is clearly not a time for “business as usual.” This health emergency is affecting everyone, whether or not they have been exposed to COVID-19, and might also affect how patients respond to healthcare surveys. To acknowledge the challenges affecting everyone during COVID-19, consider making revisions to your invitation letters/messages and telephone script to acknowledge the current situation, explain how you will use the information, and emphasize the idea that we all have a stake in supporting a well-functioning healthcare system. For example, here is modified sample wording developed by a national healthcare organization that you might adapt for your CAHPS survey cover letter:
In this difficult time we are facing together, we at [Name of organization] continue to be committed to seeking ways to improve the services we provide to our patients, with your health and safety always as our top priority. Your feedback helps our physicians, nurses, and staff know where we may improve. Your swift reply will help us make needed changes faster.
If you are preparing a survey to meet the requirements for a specific program, be sure to get approval from the organization requiring the survey for any changes to invitation letters and telephone scripts.
Submitting Survey Results to the CAHPS Database As Scheduled in 2020
AHRQ will continue to accept submissions to the CAHPS Database for the CAHPS Clinician & Group Survey in May and the CAHPS Health Plan Survey in June, as originally scheduled. Maintaining these voluntary databases is critical to having comparison data for tracking performance and identifying improvement opportunities, especially during times of crisis and transition.
Contacting AHRQ’s CAHPS Technical Assistance
Please contact AHRQ’s CAHPS Help Line at CAHPS1@westat.com or 1-800-492-9261 if you have any questions about CAHPS surveys or their use or if you would like an extension on the submission period.