Health Service Co-Design


Experience-based surveys

These are simple surveys to find out how patients experience a specific part of the hospital healthcare journey and allow patients to come up with specific suggestions for improving their experiences.

Why use it

It is a simple, easy-to-complete survey that can quickly give you an understanding of which parts of the journey are most problematic for patients and what changes can be made to improve it.

When to use it

Experience-based surveys can be used early on in service improvement work to understand experiences, identify areas for improvement and establish baseline measures. They can also be used again after changes have been implemented as a way of quantifying the impact of these on patients' experiences.

1. Choose a clinic or service to survey

Break down the patient journey into about five or six typical steps or stages that a patient will go through. Make sure you use non-technical language that is easy for patients to understand.

For example, a typical visit to a clinic may involve the following steps:

  • Arriving/checking in
  • Waiting
  • Clinic appointment
  • Information
  • Leaving

2. Agree on the details of undertaking the survey, including:

How long a clinic will be surveyed for (a week, a fortnight, a month) and how many should be surveyed. The duration of your survey should be long enough and the sampe size large enough to coverĀ as much variation between patients as possible. Things to consider might be:

  • The number of patients over a given duration
  • Gaining the best representation of a variety of patients
  • Avoiding atypical times such as public holidays
  • Gaining expert advice on statistical robustness

Logistics, such as:

  • Who will give out the survey forms (staff at reception, nurses).
  • Who will collect the completed forms.
  • Who will be responsible for compiling the results.
  • Whether a summary of the results will be sent to patients (and who will do this).
  • Who is responsible for implementing the recommendations.

3. Develop the survey

Develop the survey using the experience-based survey template or your own design

4. Prepare for the survey

  • Brief all staff involved about the survey.
  • Get surveys printed and address pre-paid post envelopes.
  • Print information posters about the survey and put up on clinic walls.
  • Set up survey boxes (for people who want to complete the survey and hand it in immediately).

5. Conduct the survey

6. Analyse and present the data

Experience-based survey template

The following template is adapted form the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement experience survey.


  • Make sure patients have the option of either completing surveys when they attend the appointment and putting them in a survey box or completing the surveys later and posting them in. You will probably find that most people will complete the surveys straight after their appointment and that the number of surveys posted is quite low.
  • Empty survey boxes daily.
  • Fill in data collection spreadsheets regularly rather than leaving this to the end of the survey period.
  • Don't be disappointed if the majority of survey respondents just tick the boxes and do not add in any written comments.
  • Have a delegated contact person for patients to contact if they wish to talk about the survey or provide more detailed comments about the service they have received.

Example: Your Breast Clinic experience

The Breast Service at Waitemata DHB wanted to understand the experiences of patients who visited the breast clinic, what they felt during each stage of their journey and what improvements could be made.

They identified the six common steps that patients went though: arriving/checking in, waiting, biopsy, clinic appointment, information and leaving.

The service developed a survey template based on the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement experience questionnaire. All patients who visited the service over the period of one month were invited to complete a survey.

More than 180 surveys were completed by patients who attended breast or mammography clinics. While most patients were positive about their experiences, many suggestions were made as to how the service could be improved. These related to written information, waiting room facilities, communication, and systems and procedures.