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Virtual care and telehealth: Benefits and challenges of measuring patient experience

Like most industries, the healthcare sector is witnessing dramatic transformation as a consequence of advancements in digital technologies. In particular, digitalization is improving the ability of healthcare professionals to interact with their patients virtually, which in turn is increasing access to care while decreasing overall costs.

The term telehealth, or telemedicine, is used to describe the treatment of medical conditions where the patient and the physician do not meet with each other in person. Thanks to the availability of digital tools like live video platforms, instant messaging, and chat channels, healthcare providers can give patients medical advice, respond to any questions about their diagnosis, treatment plan or condition, walk them through at-home exercises, refer them to local facilities, and even monitor their vitals following surgery. And, not only are virtual care visits tremendously convenient for patients and healthcare providers alike, research shows that they can deliver superior care at lower costs. For example, one comparative study of urgent care visits delivered virtually and in-person found that telehealth visits reduced total visit time by seven-fold, and cost around two-thirds less than an in-person visit.  

However, for telehealth and virtual care services to provide value to healthcare professionals and patients alike, it must be implemented in a way that ensures the delivery of safe,patient-centered care. That means that gathering feedback from patients on their experiences is crucial. In this article, we’ll go through the benefits and challenges of measuring patient experiences of virtual care and telehealth, and talk about the challenges of gathering the critical data you’ll need. 

First, let’s talk about why telehealth is important. As well as having the ability to improve patient experience, telehealth can dramatically improve patients’ access to care. This is especially important for certain groups of people such as:

  • Those who live in rural areas and who would otherwise need to travel long distances to seek out care
  • Those who have chronic conditions who need to see a specialist frequently
  • Those who have physical disabilities and who would otherwise struggle with in-person visits
  • Other vulnerable or marginalized communities who have traditionally been excluded from access to healthcare

In this sense, virtual care has the power to make an impact on equity and inclusive healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated this clearly. At a time when certain communities were placed under quarantine, and there were restrictions on in-person interactions, telehealth played a critical role in providing access to healthcare for patients in need. 

As a healthcare provider, you might be concerned about whether patient experience during telehealth visits and virtual care is equivalent to patient experience during in-person visits. It is crucial to obtain timely and accurate feedback from patients to ensure that their needs are being met, and to inform the future development of virtual care services. As we explain here, SurveyMonkey Enterprise can help you gather the data you need to evaluate patient experience. Read on to learn more about the benefits of measuring patient experience through telehealth.

Assessing and measuring patient experience with telehealth through online data collection tools offers considerable benefits for patients and healthcare professionals alike.

Patients are one of those groups of users that are willing to give feedback to providers on the service that they’ve received. After all, they have a vested interest in helping healthcare professionals to deliver care of the highest quality. However, opportunities for patients to share their experiences are often lacking, especially when patients receive healthcare traditionally, and in person. For example, patients may feel uncomfortable sharing negative feedback or dissatisfaction directly with their healthcare provider. Surveys given to patients at the point of delivery may also be forgotten or lost.  When care is delivered virtually through telehealth platforms, however, patients have greater access to surveys because these tools can be administered immediately following appointments. 

Convenience is one of the biggest benefits of telehealth patient experience surveys. Imagine if you wanted to collect patient feedback in a traditional way. This might involve: mailing a survey to a patient and asking them to fill it in by hand, go out and mail it back. That’s a lot of inconvenience for the patient: especially if they’re in one of the categories that have conventionally had lower access to healthcare than others. Even compared to online surveys, patient experience surveys delivered via telehealth are more convenient. That’s because patients can find surveys easily in their dashboard so that they always have an opportunity to give feedback on their experiences.

Patients might feel safer when providing feedback to healthcare providers through online data collection tools. When you collect patient data in a way that is HIPAA compliant, patients may feel that they can share their honest feedback about their experiences. In addition, collecting data online through or after virtual care visits reduces personto-person interactions, which is especially important to some people, particularly as a result of the global pandemic.

We’ve all heard the horror stories: data breaches in which sensitive information is accidentally shared with unknown users, or worse, intentional hacking that leads to the loss of seemingly secure personal data. Patient trust is everything, and patients often share very personal information when giving feedback, which is why gathering patient experience data in a secure way is crucial. SurveyMonkey Enterprise offers advanced security features, like Account Control and Single Sign-on, allow you to collect protected health information (PHI) in a safe and secure manner. For a full list of all the features you can take advantage of for secure, HIPAA-compliant data collection, take a look at our dedicated guide.

In order to ensure that patients are realizing the benefits of virtual care, we recommend distributing a patient survey (For a sample, see here)

In addition to providing a myriad of benefits for patients themselves, online patient experience surveys of virtual care visits offer several advantages for healthcare professionals too.

As we’ve mentioned, gathering patient feedback data is vital if you want to make sure that patient needs are being met and if you want to put yourself in the best possible position to catch issues before they drive your patients away. We know, however, that data collection can be costly and challenging. In particular, the need for healthcare providers to be HIPAA-compliant in the way that they gather patient data can add tremendous cost. For healthcare providers,  online surveys are the most efficient and cost-effective way to gather that all-important patient feedback. Using the range of tools available at SurveyMonkey’s Healthcare Hub, you can track patient satisfaction, experiences and sentiments right from your dashboard, safely and securely. We also offer a range of features enabling you to capture data offline and through SMS.

Telehealth services not only help promote the safety and security of patients—they promote healthcare provider safety too, by optimizing healthcare professionals’ use of time and reducing the need for in-person contact. However, don’t take this as a guarantee: it's a good idea to make sure that healthcare providers do feel safe when delivering virtual care. For example, burnout is a real concern among healthcare professionals, and you want to make sure that the delivery of virtual care is not contributing to a heightened sense of stress and burden. To get a fuller picture of the overall benefits of telehealth and virtual care delivery, consider a survey of the workforce to measure engagement, identify gaps in knowledge, assess their training needs, and determine the extent to which they feel able to provide the best care for their patients. We have all the tools you’ll need: right here.  We also recommend implementing processes for quality measurement and improvements to make sure that telehealth programs do not undermine, but drive clinical quality and safety. 

Post-visit is the best time to capture patient satisfaction because patients’ experiences of your service and care will be at the top of their minds.  Consider evaluating Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Consumer Effort Scores (CES) through your post-visit surveys to get real-time insight into patient satisfaction, which you can then measure and track over time. This is especially useful if you’re implementing changes (like introducing new technologies) that you expect to impact patient satisfaction. By integrating simple but powerful measures of patient satisfaction into your surveys, you’ll have the insight that you need to improve telehealth visits and drive excellence in patient care.

With virtual care tools, it's much easier than ever before to analyze patient experience data. Not only can you quickly analyze patient feedback data, but you can also integrate these insights with data from your EHR and other relevant platforms, making for a comprehensive overview of patient experiences, and how they’re shaping provider outcomes. For more on how healthcare organizations are collecting and acting on insights through patient feedback, check out this article.

Positive patient experiences are correlated with a lower risk of medical malpractice, and all of its accompanying costs. Since virtual care helps you to capture critical insights into patient experience in real-time, you’ll soon have the data you need to optimize experiences and minimize risks.

Virtual care visits and telehealth are especially important for individuals with chronic, long-term issues who must manage their conditions at home. There is a relationship between patients’ experience of healthcare and their self-management of their condition. Patients who have positive experiences of healthcare delivery are more likely to adhere to medical advice and treatment plans, to engage in preventive action, and overall, to experience better health outcomes.

As you can see, measuring patient experiences in telehealth and telecare can be highly beneficial for both healthcare providers and their patients, giving healthcare practice the tools to elevate the entire experience on behalf of the communities they serve. However, there are also some challenges with measuring patient experience with virtual care systems.

Challenges with measuring patient experience for patients include:

  • Accessibility issues: Certain demographic groups, such as individuals with certain disabilities, may find it more difficult to provide feedback through digital surveys. Reaching these communities is crucial, however, if patient feedback is to be valid and relevant to all of the populations that you serve. We have a handy guide here on how to create surveys that are 508-compliant and meet other accessibility standards. However, we also encourage you to explore other ways to capture insights from different demographic groups of patients where possible. For instance, if patients do visit you in person as a follow up to virtual care visits, you can gather feedback data directly from them using Offline Kiosk Mode. 
  • Insurance coverage: Not all insurers cover telehealth and virtual care visits, so for some populations, care is still delivered in the traditional way. However, this is likely to change as technologies continue to advance and develop, and virtual visits become more of a norm than an anomaly.

Challenges with measuring patient experience for healthcare providers include:

  • Legal issues: Laws and regulations vary state by state, which can make it difficult to interact with some patients, depending on where they are located. In addition, legal differences make it challenging for healthcare providers who might wish to create a standardized approach to data collection through telehealth. However, it is important to remember that HIPAA regulations apply across the country, and must be followed when gathering any protected health information from patients. 
  • Technological issues: Without the proper technological infrastructure set up, certain healthcare providers can experience logistical challenges in measuring patient experience.

So, as you can see, virtual care and telehealth offer healthcare professionals new and growing ways to deliver high-quality patient care, with benefits for both patients and providers. In addition, telehealth platforms provide an opportunity to gather patient input and feedback to further drive patient satisfaction. For more on how SurveyMonkey solutions can help with measuring patient experience, take a look at our guide, and explore our healthcare hub.

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