Are consumer surveys valuable as a service improvement tool in health services?

Anjali Patwardhan (Health Service Management Centre, Birmingham, UK and Sunderland Royal Hospital, Sunderland, UK)
Prakash Patwardhan (Covidien Health Care, Chesterfield, UK)

International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance

ISSN: 0952-6862

Publication date: 2 October 2009



In the recent climate of consumerism and consumer focused care, health and social care needs to be more responsive than ever before. Consumer needs and preferences can be elicited with accepted validity and reliability only by strict methodological control, customerisation of the questionnaire and skilled interpretation. To construct, conduct, interpret and implement improved service provision, requires a trained work force and infrastructure. This article aims to appraise various aspects of consumer surveys and to assess their value as effective service improvement tools.


The customer is the sole reason organisations exist. Consumer surveys are used worldwide as service and quality of care improvement tools by all types of service providers including health service providers. The article critically appraises the value of consumer surveys as service improvement tools in health services tool and its future applications.


No one type of survey is the best or ideal. The key is the selection of the correct survey methodology, unique and customised for the particular type/aspect of care being evaluated. The method used should reflect the importance of the information required.

Research limitations/implications

Methodological rigor is essential for the effectiveness of consumer surveys as service improvement tools. Unfortunately so far there is no universal consensus on superiority of one particular methodology over another or any benefit of one specific methodology in a given situation. More training and some dedicated resource allocation is required to develop consumer surveys. More research is needed to develop specific survey methodology and evaluation techniques for improved validity and reliability of the surveys as service improvement tools. Measurement of consumer preferences/priorities, evaluation of services and key performance scores, is not easy.

Practical implications

Consumer surveys seem impressive tools as they provide the customer a voice for change or modification. However, from a scientific point‐of‐view their credibility in service improvement in terms of reproducibility, reliability and validity, has remained debatable.


This artcile is a critical appraisal of the value of consumer surveys as a service improvement tool in health services – a lesson which needs to be learnt.



Patwardhan, A. and Patwardhan, P. (2009), "Are consumer surveys valuable as a service improvement tool in health services?", International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, Vol. 22 No. 7, pp. 670-685.

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Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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