Hiring a Vendor for a CAHPS Survey

Users of CAHPS surveys of patient experience typically seek out and contract with a survey vendor to administer the survey and sometimes to analyze and report the results. Unless specified by an external organization, the use of survey vendors is recommended but not required.

Why Use a Vendor for a CAHPS Survey?

The use of vendors is strongly recommended for the following reasons:

  • Working with an outside firm to conduct your survey will help to ensure the neutrality and credibility of your results.
  • Professional and experienced vendors can usually provide you with better quality data at a lower cost than if you were to field the survey yourself. Vendors typically have trained staff to perform the activities, as well as the facilities and equipment required to handle the tasks (e.g., large-scale mailing facilities, telephone switching equipment, and computer, printing, and graphics capabilities).
  • The use of an experienced vendor can help ensure that the collection and analysis of the survey data are consistent with recommended CAHPS protocols for survey administration, analysis, and reporting. This is especially important if you want to compare your results with those of other sponsors locally or through merged data sets such as the CAHPS Database or the National Committee for Quality Assurance's (NCQA) Quality Compass.

Special note for health plans: If you are seeking NCQA accreditation or are reporting HEDIS® measures, you are required to hire a third-party vendor for data collection and analysis.

Finding a Survey Vendor

Neither the CAHPS program nor the CAHPS Database have a vendor certification process. Any vendor who administers the appropriate version of a survey and follows CAHPS data collection and submission protocols may submit data to the CAHPS Database.

To find a vendor in your area, you may want to consult with:

Developing an RFP for a Survey Vendor

To ensure the success of your project, your goal is not simply to find a vendor, but to find the right vendor. Therefore, you must get a very clear understanding of potential vendors’ capabilities and strengths so you can choose one that fulfills the needs of your project (e.g., if you are going to conduct a telephone survey, you want a vendor with experience in that area).

Some survey vendors will be able to handle your reporting needs as well; others will not. Be sure to ask whether your survey vendor can produce reports, and examine samples of their work. You may find it preferable to hire a separate reporting vendor.

To get information on vendors' capabilities, you need to develop a Request for Proposal (RFP) that tell prospective vendors

  • What work you want done;
  • How you want them to do it; and
  • When the bids and work are due.

An RFP also helps you to create a structure to organize your needs and timeline.

The RFP should contain

  • A statement of work that describes the background for the CAHPS survey and provides details of what needs to be done and how;
  • Background material on the project;
  • A schedule that specifies when activities should be completed and deliverables are due;
  • Specifics on vendor responsibilities;
  • Details on the bidding, proposal evaluation, and selection process; and
  • Details on payment amounts and methods.

Tips for Successful RFPs

  • Make tasks, expectations, deadlines, and deliverables clear and specific.
  • Ask for all the documentation, files, data sets, and other deliverables you think will be needed. The contract you eventually sign with a vendor will be based on the specifications laid out in the RFP. You will not be able to ask for any of these items later unless you modify the budget, so be sure to include them in the RFP. This tip is especially important if you are planning to submit data to the CAHPS Database.
  • Ask vendors for details on their monitoring, supervision, and problem resolution procedures. Or, if you already know what procedures you prefer, be sure to specify your requirements clearly.
  • When evaluating bids from vendors, carefully consider both the technical approach and the cost proposal. Look for the following:
    • A demonstrated understanding of the project;
    • Coherent, thoughtful, and thorough responses to the specifics of the RFP;
    • Adequate safeguards to assure respondent confidentiality;
    • Well-qualified staff with sufficient expertise; and
    • Value for the cost proposed.
  • After reading through all the proposals, pick two or three vendors for further evaluation.
    • Talk to them personally.
    • Contact their other clients.
    • Consider visiting their facilities (this will be especially helpful for telephone survey vendors).
  • These meetings and visits will help you determine whether you and the vendor can work well together. To make the most of the visits and meetings, include someone from your team with expertise in survey design, data collection, analysis, and reports production.

Developing a Contract With a Survey Vendor

When you have chosen a vendor, draw up a contract that clearly states everything you expect to be done and when the work is to be completed. Use legal assistance as necessary to develop the language and terms.

Remember that, while the RFP serves as its basis, the contract itself is the legally binding document. Make sure that everything you need and expect from the vendor is specified in the contract.

This contract should be like any other contract with an outside vendor. As appropriate, include

  • Any incentives for meeting goals or targets;
  • Any penalties for missed deadlines; and
  • Any penalties for falling short of the required response rates and number of completed questionnaires.

You may want to include the vendor's technical and cost proposals (which detail the activities, deadlines, products, and amount and method of payment) as attachments to the contract.

Before signing, review this document one last time with your audiences and goals in mind. Will the work specified really accomplish what you want? If not, negotiate any necessary changes with your vendor.

Page last reviewed December 2018
Page originally created March 2012
Internet Citation: Hiring a Vendor for a CAHPS Survey. Content last reviewed December 2018. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. https://www.ahrq.gov/cahps/surveys-guidance/helpful-resources/hiring/index.html
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