Strategic Customer Surveys to Get the Data you Need

By: David F. Zirkle, PhD | dzirkle@barlowmccarthy.com

“I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.” – Mark Twain, American author and humorist

Medical staff planning has traditionally focused on the number of physicians required to serve the healthcare needs of a defined population or geographic region.  However, as interest in population health management increases, attention to network development is also gaining traction as organizations plan to manage growing at-risk populations.

Consumer perceptions of the local healthcare market, including access to care, utilization patterns and overall opinions of providers within the region, can affect where patients decide to seek care. We have developed a consumer research model that incorporates a number of factors that can support network development decisions.

Our approach uses a “blended” web and telephone survey of residents in the local area to collect input from the community. The web portion is conducted first and based on response profiles; a telephone survey is used to “backfill” the quota and ensure appropriate demographic and geographic representation in a cost-effective manner.

A survey length of 10-12 minutes permits customization to meet local needs while ensuring reasonable response rates. Target quotas are set to provide a statistically reliable sample and the necessary level of confidence in the results. “Soft” or sub-quotas offer the opportunity to segment the results by key demographic and behavioral characteristics of healthcare consumers. Multiple market regions can also be included in the analysis due to economies of scale, e.g. survey design, sample acquisition, data collection, analysis and reporting.

Upon completion of the survey, the data are verified and tabulated in accordance with market research industry standards. Open-ended responses, where appropriate, are categorically coded for inclusion in the tabulated data tables.

The essential outcome is a clearly defined research process designed to explore current consumer perceptions of the local healthcare market and recommended actions that can better position the organization in the marketplace.  More specifically, the survey results can support a wide array of potential applications including:

  • Access Barriers — identify barriers and unmet healthcare needs in the community such as closed practices, lengthy appointment wait times, insurance restrictions, etc.
  • Service Experience — explore service expectations and satisfaction with appointment availability, travel time, office hours, time with the physician and staff and other convenience factors, etc.
  • Consumer Loyalty — quantify past usage of healthcare services including tenure with the physician, frequency of use/visits with the physician, overall perceptions, satisfaction and likelihood of future use.
  • Care Delivery Models — explore consumer preferences for type of personal doctor or primary care provider, e.g. family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrician, OB/GYN, etc., as well as alternative care options such as mid-level providers, urgent care, retail, etc.
  • Network Development — support strategies including optimal number and geographic placement of providers and services to ensure adequate primary care coverage and specialty feeder system.
  • Patient Leakage — identify services consumers are likely to seek outside of the community, reasons for outmigration and likelihood to use if available in the local area.
  • Market Potential — measure consumer receptivity and likelihood to use new service offerings such as clinical programs, physician practice, clinic or facility.
  • Brand Positioning — measure brand awareness and strength to support marketing efforts such as naming conventions, key message points and market-specific tactics.