Hiring a Survey Vendor

CAHPS survey sponsors are not required to contract with vendors (with a few exceptions). However, 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 national merged data sets such as the National CAHPS Benchmarking Database (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 Vendor

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

  • NCQA, which makes a list of certified vendors for the CAHPS Health Plan survey available on http://www.ncqa.org/tabid/170/Default.aspx.
  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services:
  • A local university, which may have a commercial survey research center or can recommend local vendors.
  • Other departments in your organization that may have used survey vendors for other purposes.

Vendor Certification. 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.

However, NCQA, which does have a vendor certification process, requires that vendors be certified in order to submit CAHPS Health Plan Survey results for HEDIS® and accreditation purposes. To learn about NCQA’s HEDIS® Vendor Survey Certification, go to http://www.ncqa.org/tabid/170/Default.aspx. 

Developing an RFP

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). Learn more about RFPs. 

Developing a Contract

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.

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, you should negotiate any necessary changes with your vendor.

What To Include 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 can even 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.

Page last reviewed August 2017
Page originally created March 2012
Internet Citation: Hiring a Survey Vendor. Content last reviewed August 2017. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/cahps/surveys-guidance/helpful-resources/hiring/index.html