Survey: Patients satisfied with medical providers, but want easier access

Doctor
A survey released today indicates that Minnesota patients are satisfied with the way their medical providers interact with them, but many would like easier access to their doctor.
Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

Minnesota patients are satisfied with the way their medical providers interact with them, but many would like easier access to their doctor, according to a patient experience survey released today.

The independent ratings group Minnesota Community Measurement announced the findings after compiling data from 230,000 patient surveys completed at 651 Minnesota clinics from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30 of last year.

Jim Chase, president of Minnesota Community Measurement, described the results, available at MNHealthScores.org, as a "major milestone" in Minnesota's effort to make health care more transparent. He said Minnesota now has a statewide measure that can paint an accurate picture of patient experience across a broad range of patients.

"We know this data is of interest to consumers as they evaluate the health care options that they have," Chase said. "I think we're going to see a lot more people looking at patient experience because it's something they can relate to. ..."Many of the [health care] groups are interested in collecting this data too because they know it's very important for their patients and they want to be responsive."

When many people look for a doctor who will treat them with respect and listen to their concerns, they often seek suggestions from friends and family members. Now that the patient surveys have been compiled in one place, Minnesotans have an official source of patient information that assesses physicians at virtually every clinic in the state.

The survey measured patients' access to care, along with interactions and communication with physicians and office staff. Clinics are required to collect the data as part of Minnesota's 2008 health reform law.

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"Medicine is under the gun... And what I think today is it's the start of the first day in terms of looking at quality through access and communication."

Asked if their doctor appeared to know their medical history, 90 percent of respondents gave their physicians high marks for communication.

Other questions concerned how well physicians explained things, whether they listened carefully, showed respect, spent enough time with the patient, and provided easy to understand instructions.

On another measure, 78 percent of patients gave their provider a top rating of 9 or 10 on a 10- point scale.

Clinic personnel fared slightly better in the survey than physicians, with 92 percent of patients saying that staff members at their clinic were helpful and respectful.

Access to care was one area in the survey where many clinics did not score top marks. When asked how often they received appointments for care as soon as they needed it, only 60 percent of patients said they experienced top-level access to care at their clinics.

They were also asked how often they saw their provider within 15 minutes of their appointment.

The Minnesota Department of Health announced the survey results at the HealthEast Downtown Clinic in St. Paul. The site's medical director, Dr. Michael Bozivich, said he's always nervous when he knows the care that he provides is going to be rated.

But Bozivich said it's good for doctors to hear what patients think of their experience, especially in a climate of health reform.

"Medicine is under the gun," Bozivich said. "And what I think today is it's the start of the first day in terms of looking at quality through access and communication."

Public health officials hope that by sharing the information with the public, they will make it easier for patients to choose the physician who is right for them. They say the data also show physicians what they can do to improve care.

The survey findings will be helpful to patients said Darlene Hafner of Bloomington, Minn., who has served as a patient advocate. She came to the announcement on the survey results to encourage other patients to be more involved in their health care decisions.

In 2009, Hafner was frustrated by a lack of communication between doctors and technicians who were helping her, an experience she said likely delayed the care she ultimately needed for surgery related to Crohn's disease.

After that experience, Hafner, 61, wrote a letter to her physician about the care she received. She said her doctor thanked her for contacting her about the problem and said it had been a good learning experience for her as a physician.

"I think we need to remember that if the doctors don't know what our situation is from the patient's perspective, you can't work together to solve the problem," Hafner said.