Physicians, Health Plans Collaborate to Give Patients Stronger Voice in Care

BOSTON — If there is one health policy issue that unites medical professionals, consumers, employers, health plans, and policymakers, it is the need to include patients and families in healthcare decision making.

Massachusetts has been at the forefront of the effort to listen to patients and engage them in their healthcare. For the past decade, Massachusetts Health Quality Partners (MHQP) has used its statewide Patient Experience Survey (PES) to ask patients about multiple aspects of their primary care. These results are publicly reported to equip patients and provider organizations with data and information they can use to drive improvements.

According to Barbra Rabson, MHQP’s president and CEO, the initiative took a huge leap forward this year as, for the first time ever, provider organizations and health plans are providing financial backing for the statewide survey.

“Our state’s physician practices and their patients gain tremendous benefits from publicly releasing MHQP’s statewide patient-experience survey, and consumer demand has never been greater,” Rabson said. “All of these stakeholders deserve special recognition and praise for their investments in making sure the patient voice is being heard.”

Since 2005, the statewide survey and public reporting have been supported by five of the state’s major health plans: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Fallon Health, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Health New England, and Tufts Health Plan. Last year, eight provider organizations, representing nearly half of the state’s primary-care physicians, added their financial support: Cooley Dickinson PHO, Lowell General PHO, Mount Auburn Cambridge IPA, New England Quality Care Alliance, Partners HealthCare, Pediatric Physicians’ Organization at Children’s Hospital Boston, UMass Memorial Medical Group, and Steward Health Care Network.

“We can’t go wrong by supporting measurement and transparency in patient experience; we can only do better,” said Patricia Toro, medical director of New England Quality Care Alliance. “There are small, incremental actions that can be taken from this patient input that can result in big improvements for both patients and providers. Listening more closely to our patients is a win-win all around.”

MHQP’s latest PES results, which can be found at, include information on more than 500 Massachusetts primary-care offices with three or more physicians. Unlike surveys that rate patient satisfaction, the PES asks patients to report on their experiences in key aspects of care that are tied to important clinical outcomes. They include the doctor’s understanding of the patient, shared decision making, communication with clinicians, timely access to appointments, coordination among care providers, and helpfulness of office staff.

MHQP’s PES is the only statewide comparative survey on patient experience in Massachusetts, and the only survey of its kind in the nation that includes parents’ assessments of pediatric care. MHQP shares detailed data with the participating providers to help them assess their own performance, compare it to their peers, and set goals for improvement.

“We see some very exciting changes underway that have the potential to greatly improve the way healthcare is organized, delivered, and paid for, but they come with challenges and risks as well,” said Rabson. “By keeping the needs and goals of patients and their families front and center, we can avoid some of the pitfalls of the past and drive measurable improvements in healthcare quality, patients’ experiences of care, and the use of resources.”