The Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) program is a multi-year initiative of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to support and promote the assessment of consumers' experiences with health care. The goals of the CAHPS program are twofold:

  • Develop standardized patient questionnaires that can be used to compare results across sponsors and over time.
  • Generate tools and resources that sponsors can use to produce understandable and usable comparative information for both consumers and health care providers.

Brief History

AHRQ first launched the CAHPS program in October 1995 in response to concerns about the lack of good information about the quality of health plans from the enrollees' perspective. At that time, numerous public and private organizations collected information on enrollee and patient satisfaction, but the surveys varied from sponsor to sponsor and often changed from year to year.

Over time, the program has expanded beyond its original focus on health plans to address a range of health care services and meet the various needs of health care consumers, purchasers, health plans, providers, and policymakers. The program is currently in its third stage, often referred to as CAHPS III.

Participants in the CAHPS Program

The CAHPS program is a collaborative effort of public and private research organizations. Collectively, these organizations are known as the CAHPS Consortium.

Private Sector Participants

AHRQ awards grants to private research organizations to conceive, develop, test, and refine the CAHPS survey products.

Under CAHPS III (2007-2012)

  • Yale School of Public Health, Connecticut (previously referred to as the Harvard team)
  • RAND Corporation, California

Under CAHPS II (2002-2007)

  • Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts
  • RAND, California
  • American Institutes for Research (AIR), Washington, DC

Under CAHPS I (1996 to 2001)

  • Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts
  • RAND, California
  • Research Triangle Institute (RTI), North Carolina

Under contract to AHRQ, Westat provides support to the CAHPS Consortium and assists users of CAHPS products through the CAHPS User Network. Westat also manages the CAHPS Database.

Federal Agency Participants

In addition to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, several other Federal agencies contribute to the CAHPS program. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has been a major partner in the CAHPS program since 1996.

Other partners include the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). These agencies are all part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Goals of the CAHPS Program

Under CAHPS I. The original goals of the Consortium were as follows:

  • Develop and test questionnaires that collect information on consumers' experiences and assessments of health plans and services.
  • Develop data collection protocols, analysis methods, and report templates that can be used across survey sponsors and types of health plans.
  • Develop and test different reporting formats for conveying this information to consumers.
  • Design and implement an evaluation of CAHPS protocol and products.
  • Determine whether CAHPS survey results and reports help purchasers and consumers select a health plan.

Under CAHPS II. In its second phase, the program expanded its focus beyond health plans. The grantees were responsible for the following tasks:

  • Maintain and refine the CAHPS Health Plan Survey.
  • Develop and test CAHPS surveys at the medical group and individual provider levels.
  • Further develop and test survey products for behavioral health services, hospitals, hemodialysis facilities, nursing homes, and people with mobility impairments.
  • Assess the usefulness of CAHPS data for quality improvement purposes.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of CAHPS survey products in applied settings.
  • Evaluate alternative data collection technologies.
  • Refine and expand reporting guidelines.
  • Translate questionnaires and reports into Spanish and provide guidelines for translation into other languages.
  • Conduct research on cultural comparability.

To guide its planning for the program after CAHPS II, AHRQ contracted with Mathematica to conduct an evaluation, which included a literature review designed to help AHRQ take stock of the program's past and its priorities for the future. Download the full report: Literature Review: Using Quality Information for Health Care Decisions and Quality Improvement, May 2005 ( PDF [ PDF file - 24.24 KB] (PDF Help).

Under CAHPS III. Based on Mathematica's conclusions and other input, the focus of the CAHPS program has shifted from the development of surveys to the development of tools and resources to support the use of CAHPS surveys. AHRQ established the following objectives for the third phase of the CAHPS program:

  • Develop and test ways that organizations can use CAHPS data for quality improvement.
  • Develop reporting methods to support both consumer choice and quality improvement in health care organizations.
  • Continue to develop and refine CAHPS surveys.
  • Support dissemination and promote the use of CAHPS products.