Since the early days of the Covid pandemic, surveyors have been avoiding “home visits”—those interactive ride alongs where the surveyor goes with a delivery person or clinician to visit a patient/customer in their home. This is for the safety of the staff members, the surveyor, and most important, the patient/customer. Although our process has changed a bit over the last few months, the surveyors are still not going out on home visits and are not likely to start that process up again any time soon.
Accrediting bodies have had to get creative to evaluate staff competency and customer service skills. Nothing beats actual observation. However, in an attempt to make these evaluations, the surveyors have come up with some creative and useful options. These options include the virtual survey process, asking staff to perform “mock equipment set ups”, and contacting the patient/customers directly via telephone.
Some organizations have been surprised to find that surveyors want to call patient/customers during the survey process. Actually, this process has been in place as long as surveying and has served as a viable, useful alternative when actual delivery ride alongs were not available or feasible because of distance, time, etc. They provide a safer and more efficient way to interact with your organization’s greatest fans and harshest critics as the surveyor conducts their inspection.
Typically, the surveyor will try to talk to at least one or two patient/customers per survey or per location depending on the size and scope of service of the organization. The surveyor will most likely prefer to select the customer from a list of the organization’s customer base rather than have the organization pick the lucky winners themselves. This is to randomize the outcome of the call and to increase the likelihood of gathering objective and useful information from it. The surveyors aren’t looking for your “worst” customer, nor will your biggest fans be likely to give any useful information. They are simply looking for an honest discussion about the experience the customer/patient had in dealing with the organization.
During the survey, the surveyor will gather some information about an organization’s scope of service. Using complaint logs, customer satisfaction surveys, staff interview comments about customers, and patient records that they’ve reviewed, the surveyor will work with you to select some folks to call. Its normal to get voicemail and leave messages, so most surveyors like to have a list with multiple names/numbers. They might need to call seven or eight patient phone numbers to connect with just one or two! Often, the surveyor will ask you to call and give them a notice that a surveyor might be calling so as to not confuse anyone. It goes without saying that customer/patients have the right to not participate in this activity and any lack of participation on their part is not held against the organization.
Most surveyors will prefer to have the conversation with the customer/patient away from staff members. The surveyor will introduce themselves and explain who they are and what HQAA is doing with your organization. Then they ask a series of somewhat informal questions about the customer/patient’s experiences. The goal is that it feels like a friendly, informal conversation, not an interview. There are no trick questions, and the surveyors are generally pretty good about sorting out comments and feedback. The conversations are an important adjunct to the survey process, but you won’t fail (or succeed) solely on the basis of what the customers say about your services.
Things to expect the surveyors to ask or discuss on these calls include:
- What type of equipment/services the organization provided
- How the education process worked (“who showed you how to use the equipment?”)
- “Have you had any problems with the equipment since it was provided?” If so, how did the organization respond to the problem? If the patient/customer says they complained to the organization, the surveyor will expect to see notes about the complaint and follow up in the complaint log and in the patient’s plan of care.
- If the patient/customer has had to call the organization for any reason and how responsive the organization was
- If the patient/customer has had any occasion to call after hours and if so, how responsive the organization was
- Questions about billing such as who is paying for the equipment, how the organization explained the billing process, have they collected any copayments or deductibles, etc.
- “Why did you select this company to provide the equipment/services?” and/or “How did you find the company?” –These questions are aimed at finding out how the referral process works.
The timing of the patient phone calls is important. The surveyor will want to time the calls so that he or she has some insight into the organization, so they’ll want to conduct at least part of the survey process prior to the calls. However, they also will most likely want to allow time for additional follow up based on how the calls go and what type of information the surveyor gleans from them.
Conversations with your patient/customers by the surveyor are an important part of the survey process. The surveyor will review your operation, talk to your staff, review all your files and documentation and tour the facility. All of these activities will help “paint the picture” of your organization. But actually talking to the folks you care for and help is one of the most valuable, important aspects of the survey. Most importantly, it gives your organization insight into how your customers perceive the care you provide. And that’s helpful information for any company or any person to have.