When patients enjoy a good experience at the doctor’s office, it shows in their health, a growing body of research indicates. If you can get an appointment promptly and visit a provider who really listens and understands your medical history, you’re more likely to follow your doctor’s instructions, take change of your own health, and get a better clinical result, the thinking goes.
So how does your doctor measure up? For the first time in Maine, the public can view and compare how patients rated hundreds of medical practices across the state. Patient ratings of nearly 270 primary, pediatric, and specialty care practices are now online, based on surveys completed by roughly 40,000 adults, including parents.
The new website, mainepatientexperiencematters.org, is supported by the Maine Quality Forum, an independent state government division tasked with measuring and improving the quality of health care in Maine.
Karynlee Harrington of the Maine Quality Forum explained how the new results differ from other patient surveys.
“While many Maine practices privately survey their patients, until now there has never been a way to publicly compare patient experience ratings across practices,” she said in a press release announcing the website. “These practices showed tremendous leadership by participating in this initiative and sharing survey results with the general public.”
The voluntary survey asked randomly selected patients about aspects of their health care experience closely linked to quality, from how well doctors explained things to whether office staff was courteous and helpful. It was completed over a four-month period in late 2012/early 2013.
All providers that participated used the same nationally recognized survey, allowing for valid comparisons across medical practices. The data was submitted to a national database that analyzed the results.
“Although findings vary by practice site, survey results indicate that a high percentage of patients in Maine give their provider practices top scores for communication, helpful and courteous office staff, and talking about medications,” the press release states. “Survey findings also identified areas where there is room for improvement, such as wait times for appointments, attention to mental health needs and access to after hours care.”
Patient surveys have become more prevalent in health care, and are increasingly tied to hospital and physician compensation. Medicare now weighs patient satisfaction in determining hospitals’ reimbursements. But experts debate how accurately such surveys reflect the quality of care patients receive. Some worry patients are unduly influenced by factors unrelated to their treatment, like how quickly they found a parking spot or whether the hospital cafeteria food was any good. Others argue such surveys lack credibility because patients aren’t formally trained in medicine. Proponents contend that well-designed surveys do reflect quality, helping providers to improve their patients’ experience.
For a helpful overview of this debate (with a clear opinion), check out this New England Journal of Medicine article by Susan Edgman-Levitan, executive director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s center for primary care innovation.
Dr. Robert Keller, chairman of the Maine Quality Forum Advisory Council, commended the Maine practices that participated in the new survey, which account for about a third of all physicians in Maine.
“It is not enough to collect patient experience data,” he said in the release. “Publicly sharing this information helps patients know what they should expect from their providers and help practices learn what they need to do to improve results. While the website shows areas where there is room for improvement, Maine now has a valid benchmark for targeting and tracking improvement efforts.”
To check out your doctor or research a new one, visit mainepatientexperiencematters.org.