Benchmarking: Evaluating What Other Campuses Are Doing

College health and wellness services face many challenges, some common to most all organizations providing clinical care and some unique to those serving the student population. Benchmarking involves setting an organizational standard or goal and comparing outcomes to similar or aspirational organizations. Knowing the performance of similar organizations with the same goal or standard helps set realistic goals and identifies areas with potential for significant improvement. 

Internal Benchmarking 

Internal benchmarking involves gathering data and comparing performance or outcomes on a defined parameter within the health service. Internal benchmarking may evaluate administrative areas such as productivity standards or patient satisfaction, or it may evaluate quality management activities, such as peer review and clinical guideline adherence. 

An audit in the health or wellness service setting usually refers to measurement of a relatively narrow clinical parameter. The audit can be used to identify whether a problem exists and might warrant additional study. For example, is chart documentation completed within the organization’s required time period? Are medications reviewed at each visit? A coding audit usually examines the level of evaluation and management, diagnosis, and/or procedure coding used to bill for the visit to see how it matches the chart documentation. A coding audit can be part of internal benchmarking but is usually done as part of an organizational compliance program.

External Benchmarking

External benchmarking relies on the existence of quality data from other similar institutions, so the parameters that a health or wellness service will be able to externally benchmark are somewhat limited. Some external benchmarking data is available through professional organizations, like ACHA, and some are available through informal data sharing agreements with other institutions. External benchmarking can have data comparison pitfalls, so it pays to invest in understanding the data sources and circumstances. For example, if benchmarking utilization of health services, like unique visits and campus penetration, factors such as an insurance requirement tied to health service use or a requirement for health services immunization record review, may substantially elevate health center usage compared to a campus of similar size without such requirements. Also, the definition of a patient contact should be the same at the health or wellness services comparing or benchmarking utilization data. 

The American College Health Association facilitates data collection on college student health and campus health services operations. Examples of the survey data available includes: 

ACHA-National College Health Assessment: A nationally recognized research survey that provides current, relevant, and precise data about students’ health habits, behaviors, and perceptions. Many campuses across the nation use this survey to benchmark the health behaviors of students and the impact of the behaviors on academic performance. Campuses also use the survey to measure the impact of health-related education and services on their respective campuses on health behaviors.

 ACHA-Patient Satisfaction Assessment Service: The survey measures patient satisfaction and provides for the ability to track satisfaction trends over time and compare results with similar campuses. 

ACHA Pap Test and STI Survey: This survey collects data about sexual and reproductive health services on campus and allows campuses to compare practices and outcomes with other campuses providing sexual and reproductive services. 

Sunbelt Survey: The Sunbelt Survey started as an effort by the directors of college health services of the southern region of the country to measure and benchmark many aspects of college health services operations, including size of budget, organizational structure, services, staffing levels, utilization, salaries, facility size, and much more. 

Additional information on current ACHA research can be found here

ACHA benchmarking surveys measure utilization, staffing, salaries, facilities, and clinical standards adherence and include the following:

  • College Health Salary and Staffing Survey
  • Faculty and Staff Health and Wellness Survey
  • Survey on College Health Facilities
  • Clinical Benchmarking Surveys