FQHC Requirements: The Patient Experience Benefits You May Be Missing

Ashley Worrall
by Ashley Worrall
December 11th

Running a federally qualified health center (FQHC) or community health center (CHC) can be an exhausting and thankless job. Sometimes you may feel like an outdated phone operating on a battery that drains too fast: As you endeavor to serve community needs, offer more programs, and meet various requirements for reporting and care delivery, you can almost sense the mental energy and resources being sapped at an alarming rate. Luckily, when met through thoughtful surveying, some of those FQHC requirements can help you recharge your patient experience strategy and improve clinical and organizational outcomes more quickly.  

It all starts with understanding how to make the most of these requirements. Healthcare survey initiatives shouldn’t be seen as something you design to fulfill an obligation and eventually use to spur improvements in some big, grand push, but instead an opportunity to continually review your patients’ specific issues and resolve them in real time – thus enhancing patient satisfaction, retention, and referrals. 

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The Current Landscape for Maintaining Compliance

Compliance obligations begin and end with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the overseer of FQHCs and CHCs. HRSA outlines the standards all centers must meet to receive federal funding and provide comprehensive, quality care to the communities they serve. Alongside its bevy of guidelines and regulations are steps facilities must take if they wish to secure ambulatory healthcare accreditation through The Joint Commission or the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC) and/or patient-centered medical home (PCMH) recognition via the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) 

Leaders need to make smart decisions on how they create and distribute the patient surveys necessary to comply with HRSA rules or attain certifications. They should also be up to date on the Data Modernization Initiative currently underway at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which aims to modernize core data and surveillance infrastructure across federal and state public health facilities. 

Though specific healthcare survey regulations may vary by agency, HRSA’s FQHC requirements center around having an ongoing quality improvement/assurance (QI/QA) system including clinical services and management. As they build these systems, organizational leaders must put foundational structure in place, ensure patient data confidentiality, and conduct assessments (at least quarterly) on patient satisfaction and experience. Similarly, patient surveys are required for ambulatory care accreditation and PCMH recognition. 

Unlocking the Value of the Real-Time Healthcare Survey

When conducted effectively, these assessments inform and guide the mission of the FQHC or CHC and are an integral driver of patient experience initiatives, but they must be supported by regular listening to patients and paired with tools for rapid service recovery and sustained quality improvement.  

Why? Analyses and studies have shown that patient surveys have broadly had mixed results when resources are not regularly dedicated to outstanding patient concerns and staff and providers don’t work nimbly to tackle them. Operational and survey-specific factors like the complexity of defining patient experience, delays or lack of transparency in information sharing, and a focus on quantitative survey measures have made it challenging to align with patients on what they need to have a positive care experience. 

Across the board, what regulatory bodies are looking for is a commitment to continuous quality improvement. And continuous improvement can only happen when patients are surveyed often, producing fresh insights that the healthcare organization then readily acts upon. What this means for meeting FQHC requirements is that your surveys need to include questions about critical moments and interactions within the patient journey. Some typical points of focus include: 

  • Getting access to care, regardless of ability to pay 
  • Communicating with providers 
  • Receiving culturally and linguistically competent care 
  • Having acceptable wait times 
  • Scheduling appointments 

For FQHCs and CHCs seeking PCMH recognition, there are additional patient experience measurements to consider, since those centers’ aim is to become comprehensive and patient-centric healthcare homes. Candidates must regularly track and report on the above items as well as other aspects of care like patient and caregiver engagement, care continuity, and care management. 

By getting instant feedback on these items and practicing fast service recovery when needed, healthcare leaders can identify which solutions are effective as problems arise and which should be adapted for systemic change. All of this can help on the path to higher patient satisfaction and net promoter scores (NPS). 

Implementing Digital-First Feedback on Both Sides of the Care Equation

Regardless of which specific healthcare survey efforts they must undertake, all FQHCs and CHCs should survey patients before, during, and after a care event. Instead of relying on post-discharge queries that are often ignored by patients or revisited too late to paint an accurate picture of the patient’s experience, leaders need to shift their attention to digital pulse surveys. 

By using real-time PX technology to deliver these surveys, healthcare organizations can personalize care to the communities they serve and therefore ask about and address the unique challenges often faced by underserved populations, like lack of transportation to appointments and poor access to educational resources that explain symptoms, conditions, and treatment plans. They can further ensure that the programs they develop are appropriate for their target audience, communicated effectively to that audience, and well-attended or utilized so personnel and resources are used wisely. 

Embracing FQHC requirements and experience initiatives means far more than looking solely through the patient lens, however. Positive feedback about providers can be a reference point for adjusting workplace best practices as well as a great motivator and morale booster for individual clinicians. Happier nurses, physicians, and staff contribute to better care and stronger relationships with patients.  

By engaging in real time with employees and managing their experience via pulse surveying, 360-degree feedback, and regular reviews, healthcare organizations can also collect helpful internal feedback to strengthen the human connection with their staff. These efforts contribute to improving an organization’s culture and allow clinicians to flourish as care providers while their own needs are addressed. As staffing shortages and burnout continue to plague the industry, these are all critical factors in securing and renewing patient trust. 

Tying it all Together: Achieving True Change With Technology 

Collecting actionable feedback to fulfill FQHC requirements is a core responsibility of every healthcare organization – but it also represents a key opportunity. Capitalizing on it to make swift adjustments and changes to the way you deliver care and treat patients (both medically and personally) largely results in higher levels of retention, better online reviews, and an increase in your NPS or “likelihood to recommend.” Learning in the moment also allows for immediate service recovery opportunities so you’re fixing experiences before complaints pop up in online reviews, and comprehensive data can support efforts to improve public health at a broader level, like the Data Modernization Initiative

Deliberate, effective patient and employee experience initiatives can truly make all the difference for FQHCs and CHCs. With Feedtrail’s XM platform, you can automate the sending of personalized surveys and messages via text or email at key moments in the patient journey, communicate in real time which team members are handling responses to problems that need attention, and direct satisfied patients to leave an online review on your preferred site, improving and simplifying reputation management. To learn more about our cost-effective solution, reach out today. 

The Care Necessities: A SimpleGuide to Elevating Patient Experience