Survey Best Practices

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Administering surveys allows you to collect critical feedback from your patients. Even with follow-up appointments, it can be difficult to gain genuine feedback about the patient experience. Implementing survey best practices throughout your design will ensure you get the most informative and useful answers.

1. Know Your Purpose

Before you begin developing your survey, be sure you know what you would like to achieve by administering the survey. Setting specific survey goals before beginning the survey design process will allow you to stay on topic and not lose sight of your survey’s ultimate purpose.

Keep your goals simple yet specific. Instead of, “I want to measure my patient’s satisfaction,” consider a more specific goal such as, “I want to understand why patients are not returning to our practice.”

Knowing your goals in advance will make creating and ordering the survey questions much easier.

2. Consider Survey Design 

Survey design is particularly important and can greatly affect your survey’s completion rate.

You may be thinking, what is there to “design”? You simply ask some questions, right? Not quite.

The survey design step plays a critical role in encouraging users to complete survey questions. When surveys are designed with a specific audience in mind, participants are much more likely to complete the survey and provide valuable feedback to you and your practice.

Whatever the purpose of your specific survey may be, ensure it is attractive to your target audience. It will not matter how great your survey questions are if no one answers them.

Survey Design Factors to Consider:


Your survey questions should be easy to understand and easy to select an honest answer.  Keep in mind if your survey looks confusing or time-consuming, often participants will not even bother reading the questions.  

Survey Length

The length of a survey is one of the most important factors that influence completion rate. Typically, the longer a survey is, the less time respondents spend on completing the survey. If the survey is too long, respondents might abandon the survey altogether. 

Produce Meaningful Insights

Be sure your survey questions are relevant to your end goal. Ask yourself, what exactly do you hope to achieve by having this survey completed? Remove any questions that are irrelevant or distracting.  

3. Choose Predominately Closed-Ended Questions 

When considering the types of questions you wish to include in your survey, we recommend you use primarily closed-ended questions. Closed-ended questions are questions that have set answers to select from. Often, these questions are multiple-choice or checkbox style, and participants choose their desired response from a set of provided answers. 

Closed-ended questions are easier to respond to and easier to analyze, allowing for quantitative results.

By contrast, open-ended questions are free-form questions that allow survey respondents to answer in an open text format. These types of questions can be used when looking for specific feedback.

For example:

Open ended question

As open-ended questions are time-consuming and often frustrate or overwhelm the participant, these questions should be used sparingly, if at all. If open-ended questions are used, they are usually toward the end of a survey with the option to skip or not leave any comment.  

4. Avoid Biased and Leading Questions 

You know how great your company is, so it is easy to accidentally include biased or leading questions, but should be avoided for survey best practices.

An example of a leading question would be, “How much did you love visiting our practice?” Questions worded this way encourage a desired response. Leading or biased questions cause participants to be influenced, undermining the validity of the survey results.  

Instead, ask “How would you rate your overall experience with our practice?” Asking unbiased questions encourages survey respondents to answer truthfully. 

5. Avoid Double-barreled Questions

A double-barreled question is a question where a person is asked to respond to two separate things at one time. 

For example:  

How would you rate our facility and physicians?

Questions worded this way force the respondent to answer based on their feelings toward the facility OR the physicians, but not each individually. You will not know which they choose to base their answer on, making their response essentially useless.  

6. Avoid Absolutes 

Avoid using words like “always,” “never, “or “every” in your survey response options. Using absolutes forces respondents to either completely agree or disagree with your question. If someone must hesitate to consider an answer, they may abandon the survey altogether.  

For example:  

Do your appointments always start on time?  

  1. Yes
  1. No 

Such a question limits your responses. With the answers given, participants are forced to choose one, with no grey area, thereby decreasing the accuracy of the data.  
Maybe the participant’s appointments normally start on time, but there was one time when a physician had an emergency, and his appointments were backed up.  The respondent would be forced to answer NO (appointments do not always start on time), but they may still be satisfied with their appointment wait time overall and you would not know the difference according to the response data.  

7. Use A Response Scale 

Response scales provide more in-depth feedback on how your audience is feeling without using open-ended questions.  

Instead of using Yes/No or True/False responses, consider using a 5-point Likert scale. With scaled response options, participants are presented with a series of choices to rate their opinion from one extreme to the other. Response scales allow specific feedback while allowing for quantitative data.

For example:  

How satisfied are you with today’s office visit?   

  1. Completely Satisfied 
  1. Very Satisfied 
  1. Moderately Satisfied 
  1. Slightly Satisfied 
  1. Not At All Satisfied 

8. Allow for Neutral Responses 

If a survey question does not apply to a respondent or they simply have no opinion on the subject matter a neutral response should always be an option. Otherwise, the respondent is forced to choose an answer that doesn’t reflect their true opinion which will skew your data. 

9. Be Consistent  

Being consistent with question formatting allows respondents to quickly answer the survey questions, resulting in a better completion rate. If using a response scale, stick to the same point scale throughout the entire survey. Don’t use a three-point scale for some and a five-point scale for others. 

10. Test Your Survey 

It is always a good idea to send your survey to test users before distributing it to your target audience. Have at least five people complete your survey and give feedback on ease of use, clarity of questions, relevancy, length, and if any questions caused a strong emotional response.  

Also consider testing your survey with internal employees who can catch unnoticed errors and biased wording. Ensure your data is being captured properly and the survey results help you achieve your goals. 

Use any feedback to make any necessary edits and re-test. Repeat as needed until you have a survey that is just right for your intended purpose.  

ClearSurvey Can Help with Survey Best Practices

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ClearSurvey is a best-in-class survey system focused on helping medical practices offer the best patient satisfaction in healthcare. We can help you develop a custom survey question-set based on your goals so you can gather data for useful insights. Learn more about how ClearSurvey can elevate your practice or schedule a demo today

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