Frequently Asked Questions About HCAHPS

Have questions about HCAHPS? You're not alone. There is a lot to understand when it comes to participating in the public reporting initiative. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked HCAHPS questions.

Q: What is HCAHPS?

A: HCAHPS stands for Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems. In the summer of 2002, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) asked the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to develop an instrument to measure patient perceptions of care. This measurement would be used to publicly report hospital performance (quality of care as perceived by patients). The goal of this public reporting instrument, as stated by CMS, is to provide consumers with information that might be helpful in choosing a hospital. CMS has also stated that it should complement rather than compete with quality improvement instruments already being used by hospitals.

Q: What is the HCAHPS questionnaire like?

A: Here is an overview of the survey:

  • The HCAHPS survey asks discharged patients 32 questions about their recent hospital stay. The instrument asks patients to rate the frequency of events during their care (never, sometimes, usually, always).
  • The survey is organized under the following headings: Your Care From Nurses, Your Care From Doctors, The Hospital Environment, Your Experiences in the Hospital, When You Left the Hospital, Overall Rating of the Hospital, About You.
  • The survey questions will be reported in the following domains:
    • Communication With Doctors
    • Communication With Nurses
    • Responsiveness of Hospital Staff
    • Pain Management 
    • Communication About Medicines
    • Care Transition
    • Cleanliness of Hospital Environment
    • Quietness of Hospital Environment
    • Discharge Information
    • Overall Hospital Rating
    • Likelihood to Recommend 
  • The instrument can be used either as a stand-alone survey or embedded into an existing patient survey with the core HCAHPS questions at the beginning of the survey. The hospital can decide how many questions to add.
Q: Is reimbursement tied to HCAHPS participation?

A: Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) hospitals that fail to report the required quality measures (which include the HCAHPS patient perspective survey) could receive an APU that is reduced by 2.0 percentage points. Non-IPPS hospitals (e.g., critical access hospitals) can voluntarily participate in HCAHPS. However, neither participation nor non-participation in HCAHPS will affect the annual payment update of hospitals that are not subject to IPPS payment provisions.

Q: When will my data be transmitted to CMS?

A: Press Ganey submits HCAHPS data on behalf of our clients every month to ensure compliance with CMS protocols. Your Account Manager can provide you with Press Ganey’s HCAHPS data submission schedule.

Eligible Hospitals

Q: Which hospitals are eligible to participate in HCAHPS?

A: Hospitals that report clinical data to CMS are eligible to participate in HCAHPS. It is not intended to be used for pediatric hospitals, psychiatric hospitals or other specialty hospitals. 

Q: If HCAHPS is for general acute-care hospitals, can you specify which types of specialty hospitals would be excluded from the HCAHPS process?

A: HCAHPS is designed for acute-care hospitals. The majority of specialty hospitals (e.g., pediatric, psychiatric) are excluded. Any hospital that is reimbursed under the Inpatient Prospective Payment System and is eligible for the Annual Payment Update (referred to as RHQDAPU) will need to participate in HCAHPS in order to receive full reimbursement updates. If you are unsure if your hospital should participate in HCAHPS, contact or call 1.888.884.4007.


Q: What patients are eligible to receive an HCAHPS survey?

A: The survey is designed for all (not just Medicare) adult patients discharged from general acute-care hospitals after an overnight stay. Patients to be excluded include: patients who are under 18, those who died in the hospital, patients discharged to hospice, patients who received psychiatric or rehabilitative services, prisoners, and patients with international addresses. Other allowable exclusions would include those required to comply with any state legislation.

Q: Do we have to send all eligible patient records to Press Ganey?

A: Yes, this is a CMS requirement designed to ensure that all eligible patient discharges are reported. You cannot sample records before sending the files to Press Ganey. Per CMS guidelines, Press Ganey must be able to count the number of eligible discharges and attest to the randomness of the sample. All eligible records must be sent and all required fields must be populated in the upload. (See InfoTurn Transmission Instructions for more information.)

Q: Should patients who are discharged to another facility be mailed a survey at their home or at the other institution?

A: Vendors should attempt to contact all discharged patients at the home address/telephone number provided in the hospital's administrative record.

Q: Can we sample once a year to fulfill the HCAHPS requirement?

A: No. In order to have your data publicly reported, you must have data for every month. Most hospitals will sample on an ongoing basis each month, just like your regular Press Ganey survey.

Q: How often should a patient receive a survey?

A: A patient should receive a survey for every inpatient stay. The only allowable exclusion is for a patient who has multiple stays in one calendar month.

Q: How many completed surveys do we need to have our data publicly reported?

A: A minimum of 300 completed surveys must be received over the course of 12 months.

Q: What happens if a hospital gets fewer than 300 HCAHPS returns–for instance if the number of completed surveys turns out to be 275 instead of 300?

A: Hospitals should be targeting to collect at least 300 completed HCAHPS surveys over a 12-month period. CMS notes on Hospital Compare that for those hospitals that cannot collect 300 completed HCAHPS surveys, results are based on less than 100 completed surveys or between 100 and 299 completed HCAHPS surveys.

Survey Administration — Mode and Timing

Q: What methodologies are allowed for HCAHPS?

A: The survey can be administered via any of the following: two-wave mail survey, five-attempt phone survey, combined mail/phone survey or Active Interactive Voice Response (Active IVR).

Q: When should the survey be sent to the patient and when does it need to be returned?

A: Surveys must be distributed between 48 hours and six weeks post-discharge to be included. Data collection must close six weeks following the start of data collection for each respondent.


Q: When will national implementation data be publicly reported?

A: The first public reporting of HCAHPS results occurred March 2008. The data is available at Hospital results are refreshed on a quarterly basis. Participating hospitals will receive a “preview report” of their results prior to each public report. You can view a timeline for HCAHPS public reporting here.

Q: Will there be peer groups or adjustments for hospital characteristics (e.g., size)?

A: Reports will provide a national and state norm. There will not be peer group comparisons or other adjustments on the Hospital Compare web site.

Q: I have heard discussions of patient-mix adjustment. What is that?

A: Patient-mix adjustment is a calculation to adjust a hospital’s results, based on patient and hospital demographics, to reflect what one would expect from a “typical” patient population. The intent of patient-mix adjustments is to make data comparable across different settings. CMS will apply patient-mix adjustments to a hospital’s data before it is publicly reported.


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