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DES patient surveys – easing the pain

19 December 2011

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Of all of the issues practices have to deal with right now, it would appear that the requirement to conduct a patient survey that must be developed with the agreement of the Patient Reference Group (PRG) is the biggest challenge.

It seems no one has really considered the implications of every practice having to conduct their own unique survey. One has to ask: “Do practices believe they are getting value for money from these new arrangements?”

Back in the days of the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) based patient surveys, the cost of a patient survey for the average practice was in the region of £250, which, when set against QOF payments running to thousands of pounds, represented an excellent investment.

Practices were given clear guidance as to which surveys they could use and exactly how many returns were required for a statistically valid survey. The rules were hard and fast, and primary care trusts were able to assess practices easily, safe in the knowledge the survey used had been pre-approved. All these factors encouraged practices to conduct the surveys and, more importantly from a patient perspective, patients could express their opinions.

This clarity of purpose enabled survey companies to provide services in a competitive market where, due to economies of scale, value for money was clearly demonstrated. However, if just one question is changed, all of these benefits are lost. Some practices brought up on the prices in the days of QOF surveys are finding the price of bespoke surveys prohibitive.

We have found a number of practices who have decided not to bother trying to meet the requirements of the new directed enhanced service (DES). The main reason given, and not just by smaller practices, is that it just isn’t worth it.

How can InTime Data help?
InTime Data can provide the new GPAQ (General Practice Assessment Questionnaire) survey (Version 3*), which has been designed for specific use within the direct enhanced service (DES). While described as a beta version, primary care trusts do accept it. GPAQ Version 3 contains some questions that mirror those on the GP Patient Survey. The temptation to gather such information directly from patients in order to challenge the national postal survey findings must be great.

GPAQ Version 3 is proving to be popular with our customer base but even here we are finding practices who tell us that “the PRG is happy with GPAQ Version 3 but just want to change a couple of questions”.

InTime Data has come up with two solutions to the problem. One is very basic: conduct a GPAQ Version 3 survey and add any additional questions on a separate sheet, which we will analyse alongside the main survey.

Our second solution is much more radical and far more flexible. InTime Data has developed an online Survey Builder. Practices create an account on the InTime Data website (see opposite). They can access a questionnaire bank of more than 130 questions covering all aspects of primary care.

Practices can pick questions and select practice reports, individual reports or both. They will be able to save and even print draft copies. Once the final draft is approved, practices can choose to print their own questionnaires (cheaper) or request that InTime Data print them.

Our software is capable of recording the questions selected by the practice, ensuring that the data can be captured and analysed automatically. Reports will be uploaded to the practice’s account and an email informing the practice is sent.

The initial survey is of course only one stage of what should be a continuous process. By using our Survey Builder, practices will be able to design and print small ongoing surveys dealing with topics raised by previous surveys.

InTime Data believes that by investing in this flexible approach we will be able to provide practices with the ability to design a unique practice-specific survey while continuing to offer very competitive prices. 

Denis Welch is the Managing Director of InTime Data Limited, ( a specialist patient survey and communications company. InTime Data have many years’ experience of running large-scale patient surveys on behalf of many NHS organisations. Contact: 0131 337 6535 or email [email protected]

InTime Data Limited
Tel: 0131 337 6535

*GPAQ Version 3 is available for beta testing. Please see the website for terms and conditions: