How Unstructured Feedback Can Unlock Better Patient Experiences

Updated on April 20, 2024

Typically, healthcare organizations gather insights about the patient experience in structured ways using surveys that ask questions leaders think are impactful. But what happens when the patient’s point of view is front and center? That’s when organizations have the potential to uncover a range of insights that might otherwise go undetected — insights that can help build patient relationships, foster trust, and improve healthcare outcomes. Ultimately, that’s the power of unstructured feedback. 

Before diving into using unstructured feedback to unlock better patient experiences, let’s review what unstructured feedback is and the types of unstructured feedback leading organizations collect. 

Understanding Unstructured Patient Feedback

Structured vs. unstructured patient feedback

Think of unstructured feedback as the qualitative, open-ended counterpart to the quantitative, clearly-defined feedback that hospitals and other healthcare organizations usually gather. 

With structured feedback, questionnaires might ask patients to rate the ease of their scheduling experience, the courteousness of the check-in staff, or the professionalism of their healthcare provider. The impact of these types of questions can be amplified by simply adding an open-ended section like, “Please tell us the reasons for your rating,” enabling organizations to find out about issues they might never have thought to ask about. 

Leaders don’t have to decide between collecting structured feedback or unstructured feedback. Advanced organizations enhance their understanding of the patient experience by augmenting their existing structured surveys with unstructured data collection methods. 

Types of unstructured patient feedback to gather and analyze

Unstructured feedback is available virtually everywhere, including:

  • Solicited/direct: When patients are directly asked to share their opinions via open-ended questions.
  • Unsolicited/indirect: Insights patients may provide without directly being asked, such as feedback they might share with a hospital’s contact center about the appointment scheduling process or details about their providers’ (positive or negative) bedside manner they might discuss in an online review or social media post.

Effective Strategies for Harnessing Unstructured Feedback to Unlock Better Patient Experiences 

Mature organizations gather, analyze, and act upon unstructured feedback across a variety of sources to broaden their understanding of patients to deliver more personalized, more humanized care that has a greater impact on lives. 

1. Shift from an organizational focus to a human-centered approach

One of the best ways to improve upon patient feedback surveys is by simply asking an open-ended question like, “Tell us the most meaningful part of your experience.” Doing so reveals what matters most to patients. 

2. Find out the “why” behind quantitative scores

Many organizations focus on understanding trust using Likert scale ratings to track patients’ likelihood to recommend over time. By adding an open-ended followup question about the one thing that has most positively or negatively impacted patients’ trust, health systems can understand the factors that shape likelihood to recommend. 

Paired together, quantitative scores reveal what systems need to improve while qualitative feedback reveals what to do.

3. Tune in wherever patients share feedback — with omnichannel listening

For the most comprehensive picture of the patient experience, bring together insights from across key touchpoints in the patient journey. 

  • Contact center interactions: The contact center is a healthcare system’s main pulse line into patient concerns. By monitoring calls and other support channels, organizations can capture what’s happening and address any underlying issues that are negatively impacting the patient experience — such as a breakdown in the online scheduling process. 
  • Digital experience analytics: This tool helps organizations understand how patients are interacting with their website or app, and identifies issues — such as a broken form — that cause patient frustration and website or app abandonment. A benefit of this technology is that organizations don’t need to survey their patients to find out what’s wrong, they can see the problem unfolding in real time and proactively intervene. 
  • Video: Traditional surveys can be time consuming and pose challenges. Giving patients the chance to submit quick videos about their experiences enables patients across a range of abilities to be heard in whatever language they speak. 
  • Employee experience insights: Healthcare systems can connect employee and customer experience data to find opportunities to recognize providers for positive feedback they’ve received from patients — motivating them to keep delivering great experiences — and pinpoint friction in the patient journey that might ultimately be tied to unmet employee needs, such as staffing issues, that can be addressed to improve experiences. 

4. Use AI to analyze, make sense of, and act on patient experience insights

AI-powered text and speech analytics can transcribe data sources from across channels and touchpoints and analyze them alongside structured data, to determine the what and the why of patient experiences in real time. 

Healthcare systems can get a pulse of topics as they emerge, which can lead to revelations about why patients are missing appointments, reporting higher dissatisfaction scores, and more. Insights from unstructured data can also reveal why patients are (or aren’t) likely to recommend a healthcare system or provider and the reasons why, which can inspire action plans for improving the patient experience.

5. Establish a closed-loop follow-up process

There’s a history in healthcare of asking patients about their experiences and not taking action. That’s no way to build trust. It’s critical that any concerning issue that needs follow up is addressed. AI can be used to automatically notify the appropriate team member to take action so that no patient slips through the cracks. 

Final Thoughts: A Closer Look at the Benefits of Unstructured Data

Forward-thinking healthcare leaders are adopting more patient-centered approaches to evaluating experiences. They’re evolving beyond using lengthy questionnaires that focus on the organizations’ goals and are instead focusing on making things as easy as possible for patients to be heard through unstructured feedback. 

When organizations include more channels and provide more ways for a broader spectrum of patients to offer feedback, they embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion and capture a wider variety of insights.

Traditional surveys report numbers. Unstructured data tells stories from patients in their own words. This humanizes patient feedback and makes these insights more actionable for frontline team members, inspiring physicians, nurses, and other providers to deliver improved experiences. 

Organizations that succeed in gaining a deeper understanding of the patient experience and using these insights to foster trust can empower patients to more actively participate in their own care, delivering a positive impact on health outcomes.

Amber Maraccini Principal CX Advisor at Medallia
Amber Maraccini
Principal CX Advisor at Medallia

Amber Maraccini is Principal CX Advisor at Medallia.