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A Massachusetts Surprise

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, July 1, 2010

Barbra Rabson, executive director of the Massachusetts Health Quality Partners, spent a few months with her staff evaluating patients' responses to questions about how patients reacted to their primary care physicians in the wake of the state's landmark healthcare reform law. After the MHQP questioned 80,000 people, Rabson says she had her fingers crossed.

Contrary to her expectations, doctors and patients seem to be talking more than ever, and physicians seem to be trying more than ever to learn about their patients, she says, referring to the findings of the MHQP's latest statewide survey.

"We had our fingers crossed on this one," she says. "I was really surprised. One of the big surprises is that patients report as good experience as they do, given all that is going on in the marketplace, after we implemented healthcare reform, and insured over 400,000 new people in Massachusetts."

The Massachusetts healthcare reform law was enacted in 2006, and one of its provisions is a requirement that every resident obtain a minimum level of health insurance. The federal government's healthcare reform includes a provision that would add 32 million people to the insurance roles in the next few years.

The MHQP survey -- Quality Insights: Patient Experiences in Primary Care -- showed some improvements in how commercially insured patients rated their experience with primary care physicians, compared to two years ago. MHQP is a non-independent coalition of healthcare leaders who say they use quality measures to improve health services in Massachusetts.

MHQP polled 56,000 adult patients and 22,000 parents of pediatric patients about their experiences with primary care physicians. Some 500 adult and pediatric primary care practices statewide participated.

The MHQP report is based on what patients say about their actual experiences with their primary care physicians, including: how well the doctors listen to and communicate with their patients; their knowledge about their patients' medical history, values and beliefs, how they coordinate their patients' care with specialists and provide preventive care and advice, and whether patients would recommend their personal doctors to family and friends.

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