The Best Ways to Get Patients to Fill Out Online Surveys

By Practice Growth February 26, 2020

The satisfaction survey is a valuable tool that’s often underemphasized, especially in a practice setting where there’s plenty of other projects and processes that require prompt attention. When appropriately implemented, the patient satisfaction survey can help your practice produce happier patients and a superior quality of care[3].

To achieve maximum impact, you’ll need to overcome several obstacles, perhaps the most daunting of which is persuading patients to participate. In this article, we’ll highlight proven techniques for encouraging patients to respond to online surveys.

Start With “Why”

Introduce your survey with a short description of what you aim to achieve. Explain why you’re asking these questions and how you’ll use the data collected. Ensure respondents know that each submission is reviewed and acted upon. Emphasize that each patient is an invaluable member of his or her care team, and their feedback is pertinent to providing the best care possible.

Keep it Brief

Don’t ask a question unless its answer can be used to improve some aspect of your practice’s operation. Ranking quality above quantity is usually a good policy. If your survey consists of multiple-choice or scale questions, limit responses to five options (typically “very satisfied, satisfied, unsure, unsatisfied, and very unsatisfied”) where possible. Leave room for clarification, but don’t require it.

Avoid Medical Jargon and Obscure Words

Participants shouldn’t need a dictionary to complete your survey. Studies suggest that surveys should require no more than eight or nine years of formal education, and should ideally require much less[5][6]. Keep in mind that, while often concealed, illiteracy is not uncommon, and for some of your patients, English may be a second language.

Permit Anonymity

Ideally, each survey response would be accompanied by a name and contact information, allowing follow up. However, a response with non-identifying information is more valuable than no response. Research shows that respondents are more likely to disclose sensitive or stigmatizing information when a survey is anonymous[4]. You may want to ask for identifying information so you can reach out to them later, but allow participants to remain anonymous if they so desire.

Use Tech Tools to Analyze Responses

Technology-based survey tools can analyze incoming data almost instantly, allowing you to develop actionable solutions right away. You’ll still need to manually review individual suggestions, but AI-driven programs can scan comments and identify words and phrases that’ll be flagged for review, making the entire process much more efficient. These survey tools will provide a snapshot of current data, and can track long-term trends to help you understand the impact of the changes you’ve made.

Offer an Incentive

Survey incentives will almost certainly improve response rates, but there’s some evidence that they can introduce sampling bias[8] (a sample that isn’t representative of all your patients). To minimize sampling bias, offer an incentive that will appeal to everyone, like an opportunity to win a free treatment, product, or service.

Follow Up and Act on Suggestions

Actions speak louder than words. If five out of ten respondents report that your practice’s waiting area is uncomfortably bright and it’s still uncomfortably bright when they return, they’ll notice. Show your patients that your patient satisfaction survey is more than a guise to make it seem like you value their feedback. If a patient chooses to provide identifying information, reach out to them when the change has been made, and be sure to thank them for the helpful appraisal.

Researchers suggest that a “good” response rate is 60% or more[7], but don’t get discouraged if response rates aren’t where they should be. If all else fails, conduct an informal survey about your survey. Ask patients what they’d like to see in a survey, and what factors would prevent them from participating in one. Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of a little patience and good old-fashioned trial and error.



 1) Stizia J, Wood N. Response rate in patient satisfaction research: an analysis of 210 published studies. International Journal for Quality in Health Care 1998; 10(4): 311–317.

 2) Fitzpatrick R. Surveys of patient satisfaction: important considerations. British Medical Journal 1991; 302: 887–889.

 3) White B. Measuring patient satisfaction: how to do it and why to bother. Family Practice Management 1999; 6(1): 40-44.

 4) Murdoch M et al. Impact of different privacy conditions and incentives on survey response rate, participant representativeness, and disclosure of sensitive information: a randomized controlled trial. BMC Medical Research Methodology 2014; 14(90).

 5) Calderon, JL, Beltran, RA. Pitfalls in health communication: healthcare policy, institution, structure, and process. Medscape General Medicine 2004; 6(1), 9.

 6) Calderon, JL, Zadshir, A., et al. A survey of kidney disease and risk-factor information on the world wide web. Medscape General Medicine 2004; 6(4), 3.

 7) Fincham JE. Response rates and responsiveness for surveys, standards, and the journal. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 2008; 72(2), 43.

 8) McGonagle K, Freedman V. The effects of a delayed incentive on response rates, response mode, data quality, and sample bias in a nationally representative mixed mode study. Field Method 2017; (29)3, 221-237.


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