Washington Health Alliance survey of Puget Sound patients finds decline in how well local health care providers communicate and how patients rate them


Survey of approximately 33,000 patients finds mixed news compared to 2011-2012 survey, as patients also rate office staff more helpful and courteous.

Patients say that their primary care providers generally do a good job communicating with them, but not quite as well as before. By contrast, consumers find the helpfulness of office staff improving. In both cases, there is room for improvement if we are to achieve our vision of being among the top ten percent in the country. While overall results declined in some areas, several individual medical groups and clinics saw their performance improve, proving that better results are achievable.

These are key findings of a survey that measures patients’ experiences with local primary care providers, an initiative of the Washington Health Alliance (the Alliance) called Your Voice Matters. The survey results, released today by the Alliance, are the second such comprehensive survey conducted for the Alliance. The first survey results were released in May 2012. The Alliance is the only organization in Washington State to have systematically asked patients about their primary care experience and made comparable results publicly available.

The survey was sent to 120,000 patients between September and December 2013 and completed by about 33,000 patients. The results, validated as statistically reliable, cover 46 medical groups with 185 locations in King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish and Thurston counties. For the first time, Medicaid patients were included in the survey along with patients insured by Cigna, Group Health, Premera Blue Cross, Regence BlueShield, and UnitedHealthcare.

Patient experience is an important element of overall care. Research shows that, in addition to improved clinical outcomes, excellent patient experience is an outcome unto itself, and one that is highly valued by patients. Patients want to be respected, feel heard, get the care that they feel they need when they need it, and understand their health conditions.

“Patient experience is very important, and possibly becoming more important as patients become better informed ‘consumers’ and as patient experience results are increasingly tied to provider payment,” said Susie Dade, deputy director for the Alliance. “The only way to know what patients are experiencing is to ask them. Your Voice Matters gives patients trustworthy information based on feedback from thousands of other patients, empowering them to make good decisions about their health care.”

The survey results are summarized in four categories: Getting Timely Appointments, Care and Information; How Well Providers Communicate with Patients; Helpful, Courteous and Respectful Office Staff; and the Patient’s Overall Rating of the Provider. The performance results reflect the “top box” score, the percentage of patients whose responses indicate high performance for a given measure. Results are available on the Alliance’s Community Checkup website: www.wacommunitycheckup.org.

Five medical groups scored above the regional average in all four categories: Bastyr Center for Natural Health, EvergreenHealth Women’s Care, Familycare of Kent, The Polyclinic, and UW Neighborhood Clinics.

Among the survey’s highlights:

  • Patients report the best performance overall in the category of how well providers communicate with them, with a regional average of 80.1 percent saying “always,” a small but statistically significant decline from the 80.9 percent reported in 2012.
  • Of those surveyed, 73.9 percent of patients report that their medical group’s office staff was “always” respectful and helpful in meeting their needs, a statistically significant increase from 71.9 percent in 2012.
  • The percent of patients who rated their provider a 9 or 10 on a scale of 0 to 10 declined to 74.6 percent, a statistically significant drop from 75.4 percent reported in 2012.
  • Overall, the regional performance for patients “always” getting timely appointments and care remained unchained, at 54.9 percent – this is the lowest performing patient experience area for the region as a whole.

Patient experience refers to what happens to people when they are interacting with the health care system and seeking to have their needs met. While many medical groups conduct their own patient satisfaction surveys, the patient experience survey differs in several important ways. Patient experience surveys ask patients whether or not or how often certain events happened and not simply the patients’ expectations and feelings, which can be highly subjective.

The Alliance survey was based on the nationally recognized Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS®) Clinician & Group 12-Month Survey, also known as the CG-CAHPS Survey. CAHPS was introduced by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and has undergone rigorous scientific development and testing to ensure validity and reliability.

Patients receiving the survey were asked to report their experiences with their health care provider and the provider’s staff over the last 12 months. The survey was conducted by The Center for the Study of Services (CSS) for the Alliance. Individual patient responses were kept absolutely confidential and were not seen by the patient’s provider, health plan or the Alliance. Scores are publicly reported for medical groups if they meet a predetermined threshold for reliability.

The full results, along with a sample of the survey and a report on the survey results, are available at www.wacommunitycheckup.org.

About the Washington Health Alliance

As a purchaser-led, multi-stakeholder collaborative with more than 165 participants, the Washington Health Alliance is committed to leading health system change in Washington state. The Alliance has a bold vision: by 2017 physicians, other providers and hospitals in the region will achieve the top 10 percent in performance nationally in the delivery of quality, evidence-based care and in the reduction of unwarranted variation, resulting in a significant reduction in medical cost trends. To achieve this goal, it will require the aligned efforts of those who give, get and pay for health care. A cornerstone of the Alliance’s work is the Community Checkup, a regional report to the public comparing the performance of clinics and hospitals for basic measures of quality care (www.wacommunitycheckup.org). The Alliance is a member of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Aligning Forces for Quality communities.

Media Contact:

John Gallagher, 206.454.2957, jgallagher@wahealthalliance.org.

Issued March 5, 2014.

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