Unreliable ER patient surveys prompt overhaul

B.C. health officials are working on new patient experience surveys after doctors found data from previous surveys to be unreliable.

As stories about emergency room misfortunes continue to surface, B.C. health officials don’t accurately know how frequently people leave their local ER content with their treatment.

Work is under way to change that, but results from a redeveloped patient survey won’t be known for at least another six months.

Since the beginning of the year, The News and other media outlets have reported multiple stories of people with serious complaints about how their cases were handled in emergency rooms in Abbotsford and other communities served by Fraser Health. Statistics show the Abbotsford Regional Hospital continues to battle congestion issues, with at times dozens of admitted patients waiting in the ER for a bed elsewhere in the hospital. But there’s currently no reliable indicator of just how satisfied emergency room patients are.

Fraser Health did once try to measure the satisfaction of emergency room patients, and those measures were publicly noted in regular report cards.

But Neil Barclay, an emergency physician and regional medical director for emergency medicine in Fraser Health, told The News in February that those surveys have substantial flaws and produced untrustworthy data.

“They don’t do them anymore because their methodology was really bad,” Barclay said. The surveys only sampled a small number of English-speaking patients several months after they visited the emergency room. That resulted in results that couldn’t be relied upon to make decisions.

“One month you’d see the satisfaction be 63 per cent and the next month it would be 92,” he said. “I don’t make anything of [the numbers], because they don’t make any sense.

“We all want patient satisfaction scores but the fact is, the way they were doing it didn’t provide us with useful information.”

B.C. health officials have been working on a new survey, but the process has encountered delays, with additional questions pushing back the project’s completion date, according to a January Fraser Health document.

Baseline surveys are expected to begin in April and will take place over the next six months. Data will be analyzed, and then provided to health officials “shortly thereafter,” according to a Fraser Health spokesperson.

In February, Barclay said there’s a hunger for data among those hoping to improve health care. And he said a more scientific procedure for surveying patients will finally give doctors the reassurance that the numbers tell an accurate story.

“We can look at that data and say, oh here’s how we’re actually doing at the site,” he said of the redeveloped survey. “That data I will trust.”

tolsen@abbynews.com

@ty_olsen