The Massachusetts Hospital Association and other state and national hospital groups will continue using Picker Institute surveys to measure patient satisfaction, but they plan to carefully monitor the company's performance.
The guarded vote of confidence follows news that Picker's troubled 2000 survey of hospital quality in Massachusetts won't be publicly released because of problems with a contractor's survey protocols (Sept. 11, p. 17).
Other hospital organizations said the situation in Massachusetts is disappointing but not enough of a reason to cut ties with Picker.
"The Picker tool is excellent, and we chose the company for that reason," said Marsha Nelson, vice president of the California Institute for Health Systems Performance, which signed an agreement for an undisclosed amount with Boston-based Picker in 1999 to measure patient satisfaction in California.
"We're not being alarmists," Nelson said.
The American Hospital Association, which worked with Picker in 1997 to survey 24,000 consumers nationwide about the quality of their healthcare services, is not actively involved with Picker. But the AHA is not overly concerned about the Massachusetts incident.
The Picker approach to quality is "so compelling everyone wants to use it," said Richard Wade, the AHA's senior vice president for strategic communications.
Melvin Hall, chief operating officer for Press Ganey, South Bend, Ind., a competing survey company, was cautious in his comments. "Picker appears to be committed to corrective action," he said. Press Ganey conducts surveys for 26% of hospitals with more than 100 beds.
Early this month the Massachusetts Hospital Association told 54 hospitals whose patients were participating in the statewide satisfaction survey that the results wouldn't be released. The hospitals had been expecting to share the data with local residents this fall. Picker has conducted a similar survey of Massachusetts hospitals since 1997.
Picker blamed the delays and problems on Atlanta-based CarePointe, a company that Picker co-founded a year ago with former CarePointe Chief Executive Officer Daryl Savell. CarePointe's mission was to distribute, collect and process Picker's surveys.
"We did not have confidence in CarePointe's ability to do the project," said Maureen Amaral, Picker Institute's vice president of marketing. So, Picker switched midstream in June to another vendor that "was not able to get all the mailings out at the same time," she said. The amount of time that passed between patients' hospital discharges and their survey responses varied enough to make the data inconsistent, Amaral said.
That second vendor, Chicago-based Blackstone Group, said it has been working with Picker for several years but declined to comment on the Massachusetts surveying effort.
In light of the problems in Massachusetts, The Picker Institute is re-examining how it goes about collecting data for its surveys, said the company's president, Susan Edgman-Levitan.
"We're looking at different options about how we can continue to make our surveys available to our clients," she said.
Days after the publication early this month of a Boston Globe story that pointed to CarePointe as the culprit of the botched survey, Savell resigned as the company's CEO.
"I felt I had no choice but to leave the company under the circumstances," Savell said. "I certainly tried to persuade (Edgman-Levitan) that CarePointe had the ability to carry out these projects accurately and in a timely manner, but she made the decision to award the projects to another vendor."
Massachusetts companies will continue working with Picker, watching for "evidence of their ability to deliver another survey on schedule and in accordance with all our design specifications," said Barbra Rabson, executive director of the Massachusetts Health Quality Partnership, a coalition of state healthcare organizations that commissioned the $300,000 Massachusetts survey.
Massachusetts residents were supposed to learn how their hospitals fared on the surveys this fall. Now only the hospitals will see the survey data, which they will receive sometime in November. Massachusetts hospitals contacted by MODERN HEALTHCARE were unwilling to guess at how much value the tainted data might hold for them.
"None of us have seen the data, and there hasn't been a chance for it to be analyzed to tell whether the inconsistencies in executing the survey will affect the data," said Paula Johnson, M.D., director of quality management services at 650-bed Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
"The data the hospitals get will be incredibly useful to them," Edgman-Levitan said. "Despite the fact that the public won't see the data, everybody in this state has benefited from the work hospitals have done using (such) data to improve."