We just got word that the County is scheduling their monitoring visit during the same month as our Joint Commission survey. And the next month, we’ll get audited by the State Medicaid board. My staff and I are feeling pretty overwhelmed, even though we know we have a good program. But nobody’s perfect. They’re bound to find some picky little detail. We’re not a very large program, and we’re busy enough even without survey prep. Any ideas on how to get through this?”

Think of survey day as a one-day snapshot of life in your program. The goal isn’t to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that everything you do is in compliance — it never is. The goal is to show off your best features – the things that make the best impression.

Here’s an exercise:  Imagine you had to prove to a visitor that your program was deserving of funding. You know in advance that the visitor wants to spend time with your staff and observe how they work together effectively as a team. You know they have a particular interest in how well you communicate with other programs or agencies involved in a case. They’re in control of the schedule during the visit – they can wander about and speak to whomever they wish. Given these limitations:

  • What parts of your program do you want to make absolutely sure they see?
  • Which staff do you want them to meet and interact with?
  • Which patients do you want them to encounter?
  • Which activities do you want to make sure they learn about or even get a chance to observe?
  • Likewise, what features of your program would you least like a surveyor to see during a half-day or one-day visit?

We’re looking for what (or who) will make the program most attractive to outsiders.

Surveyors see a lot of different programs and will inevitably compare yours to others. What’s special that makes your program stand out in terms of patient care, patient safety, etc?

As one Executive Director put it: “Surveys go well when the surveyor is taken with the overall positive feeling projected by staff to the point where he/she isn’t distracted by minor flaws.”

You begin making a good impression by paying attention. Welcome the surveyor. Make sure he/she has a comfortable place to work, access to telephone, privacy, and available refreshments. If possible, stay with the surveyor to answer questions and point things out in the record or the policy manual. Don’t push yourself on the surveyor, but be readily available whenever needed. All surveyors need help finding things. Provide that help.


  1. Survey day is not like other days. Priorities shift. It’s no longer about getting routine work done. It’s about making sure the survey goes well. Any other work that gets done is great, but not the principal goal.
  2. Appoint someone to personally assist the surveyor. Somebody who’s both knowledgeable and willing to help. On Survey Day, this ‘assistant’ becomes the most important staff member.
  3. Don’t stop preparing. The most common error is to assume your program is running pretty well and will therefore get a good result on the survey. Reality: There are always ten major problems that you haven’t fixed. Live by Ronald Reagan’s motto of ‘trust but verify’. Double check everything. It’ll save you getting embarrassed and having to do a plan of correction.