Tag Archives: HCAHPS

What are you asking? (or “Can HCAHPS sometimes be a DIRECT measure?”)

In a prior blog (Direct speaking about INdirect outcomes: HCAHPS as a measurement*), I argued that HCAHPS questions were indirect measures of outcomes.  Indirect measures are weaker than direct measures because they are influenced by tons of variables that have nothing to do with the outcome of interest.  But wait!! There’s more!  HCAPS can sometimes be a DIRECT measure; it all depends on what you want to know.

(If you know this, then you are way ahead of many when it comes to measuring outcomes accurately!!)


  • If your research question is what do patients remember about hospitalization then HCAHPS is a DIRECT measure of what patients remember.  
  • However if your research question is what did hospital staff actually do  then HCHAPS is an INDIRECT* measure of what staff did. 

What is HCAHPS?  HCAHPS (pronounced “H-caps”)  questions are patient perceptions of what happened, which may or may not be what actually happened.    Patients are asked to remember their care that happened in the past, and memories may be less than accurate. (See this link for more on what HCAHPS is: http://www.hcahpsonline.org/Files/HCAHPS_Fact_Sheet_June_2015.pdf )

Example:  HCAHPS question #16 is, “Before giving you any new medicine, how often did hospital staff tell you what the medicine was for?”    Whether the patient answers yes or thinkerno, the response tells us only how the patient remembers it.

Why is this important?     

  • Because if you want to know whether or not RNs actually taught inpatients about their medications, then for the most direct & accurate measure you will have to observe RNs .
  • However, if you want to know whether patients remember RNs teaching them about discharge medications, then HCAHPS question #16 is one of the most direct & accurate measure of what they remember.

*FOR MORE INFORMATION on why you want to use DIRECT measures SanDiegoCityCollegeLearningResource_-_bookshelfsee https://discoveringyourinnerscientist.com/2016/11/04/direct-speaking-about-idirect-outcomes-hcahps-as-a-measurement/

CRITICAL THINKING Pick any HCAHPS question at this link and write a research question that for which it would be a DIRECT outcome measure: question(http://www.hcahpsonline.org/files/March%202016_Survey%20Instruments_English_Mail.pdf)

For your current project, how are you DIRECTLY measuring outcomes?

Direct speaking about INdirect outcomes: HCAHPS as a measurement

When you first plan a project, you need to know what OUTCOMES you want to achieve.  You need STRONG outcomes to show your project worked! imagesCALQ0QK9

Outcome measures are tricky & can be categorized into Indirect & Direct measures:

  1. INDIRECT outcome measures are often affected by many factors, not just your innovation
  2. DIRECT outcome measures are specific to what you are trying to accomplish.

For example: If you want to know your patient’s weight, you put them on the scale (direct). weight-scaleYou don’t merely ask them how much they weigh (indirect).

Another example?  If you planned music to reduce pain, you might a) measure how many patients were already using music and their pain scores (& perhaps those not using music and their pain scores), b) begin your music intervention, and c) thmusicen directly measure how many patients started using it after you started your intervention and their pain scores.  These data DIRECTLY target your inpatient outcomes versus looking at INDIRECT HCAHPS answers of discharged patients’ feelings after the fact in response to “During this hospital stay, how often was your pain well controlled?”

Nurses often decide to measure their project outcomes ONLY with indirect HCAHPS scores.  I hope you can see this is not as good as DIRECT measures.

So why use HCAHPS at all?measuring-tape

  • They reflect institutional priorities related to quality and reimbursement
  • Data are already collected for you
  • Data are available for BEFORE and AFTER comparisons of your project outcomes
  • It doesn’t cost you any additional time or money to get the data

Disadvantages of indirect HCAHPS measures?

  • HCAHPS data are indirect measures that are affected by lots of different things, and so they may have little to do with effect of your project.
  • HCAHPS responders often do Not represent all patients because the number responding is so small–sometimes just 1 or 2

Still, I think it’s good to include HCAHPS.  Just don’t limit yourself to that. Include also a DIRECT measure of outcomethat targets the precisely what you hope will be the result of your study.

imagesCALQ0QK9You need STRONG outcomes to convince others that your project works to improve care!

CRITICAL THINKING:  McClelland, L.E., &  Vogus, T.J. (2014) used HCHAPS as an outcome measure in their study, Compassion practices & HCAHPS: Does rewarding and supporting questionworkplace compassion influence patient perceptions?    What were the strengths & weaknesses of using HCHAPS in this study? [hint: check out the discussion section]  What would be a good direct measure that you could add to HCAHPS outcomes to improve the study?

FOR MORE INFORMATION:  Whole books of measurement instruments are available through the library or a librarian can help you search for something that will measure motivation, pain, anxiety, medication compliance, or whatever it is you are looking for!!  You can limit your own literature searches by selecting “instrument” as part of your search, or you can consult with a nurse researcher for more help.

Stand & Deliver: Evidence for Empathy in Action

Patient Pain Satisfaction.  It’s a key outcome of RN empathy in action.CARE

Imagine that you are hospitalized and hurting.   During hourly rounds the RN reassures you with these words:We are going to do everything that we can to help keep your pain under control. Your pain management is our number 1 priority. Given your [condition, history, diagnosis, status], we may not be able to keep your pain level at zero. However, we will work very hard with you to keep you as comfortable as possible.” (Alaloul et al, 2015, p. 323).

Study? In 2015 a set of researchers tested effectiveness of the above pain script using 2 similar medical-surgical units in an academic medical center—1 unit was an experimental unit & 1 was a control unit.  RNs rounded hourly on both units.  handsOn the experimental unit RNs stated the script to patients exactly as written and on room whiteboards posted the script, last pain med & pain scores.  Posters of the script were also posted on the unit.   In contrast, on the control unit RN communication and use of whiteboard were dependent on individual preferences.  Researchers measured effectiveness of the script by collecting HCAHPS scores 2 times before RNs began using the script (a baseline pretest) and then 5 times during and after RNs began using it (a posttest) on both units.

Results? On the experimental units significantly more patients reported that the team was doing everything they could to control pain and that the pain was well-controlled (p≤.05). And while experimental unit scores were trending up, control unit scores trended down. Other findings were that the RNs were satisfied with the script, and that RNs having a BSN or MSN had no effect.

Conclusions/Implications?When nurses used clear and consistent communication with patients in pain, a positive effect was seen in patient satisfaction with pain management over time. This intervention was simple and effective. It could be replicated in a variety of health care organizations.” (p.321) [underline added]

Commentary: While an experiment would have created greater confidence that the script caused the improvements in patient satisfaction, an experiment would have been difficult or impossible.  Researchers could not randomly assign patients to experimental & control units.  Still, quasi-experimental research is relatively strong evidence, but it leaves the door open that something besides the script caused the improvements in HCAHPS scores.

questionCritical thinking? What would prevent you from adopting or adapting this script in your own personal practice tomorrow?  What are the barriers and facilitators to getting other RNs on your unit to adopt this script, including using whiteboards?  Are there any risks to using the script?  What are the risks to NOT using the script?

Want more info? See original reference – Alaloul, F., Williams, K., Myers, J., Jones, K.D., & Logsdon, M.C. (2015).Impact of a script-based communication intervention on patient satisfaction with pain management. Pain Management Nursing, 16(3), 321-327. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pmn.2014.08.008