Health & Wellness

Doctors Aren’t Talking: Patients Are Suffering

A national survey of Americans age 50 or older, conducted by Lake Research Partners, finds that most older adults, and particularly those with multiple chronic conditions, have experienced poor care coordination and a lack of information because their doctors aren’t talking to each other or to them. Among the survey’s most telling findings: three in four respondents (74 percent) have wished that their doctors talked and shared information with each other; and 36 percent of heavy users of the health care system say they have received conflicting information from different doctors.

The survey, conducted for the Campaign for Better Care, which is led by the National Partnership for Women & Families, Community Catalyst and the National Health Law Program (NHeLP), confirms what consumer and patient advocates have long understood – our most vulnerable patients are suffering because our health care system is fragmented and not centered on patients.

“These survey results underscore a problem that we simply must solve,” said Debra L. Ness, President of the National Partnership for Women & Families. “Every day in this country, older patients leave hospitals without the information and supports they need to continue to recover at home, doctors prescribe new medications without warning patients about adverse reactions with the meds they already take, and patients leave their doctor’s offices confused about their diagnoses and treatment. Our health system is rife with poor coordination and communication, and as a result we are letting down those patients and families who need help the most. The new health reform law has the potential to make the improvements we need, but we must ensure that the new law is implemented in ways that help older adults and their family caregivers. If we can make our health system work for them, we can make it work for everyone. The Campaign for Better Care is organizing a powerful network of advocates to advance that goal.”

“When one in three respondents to our survey report that their doctors don’t talk to them about possible harmful interactions with other drugs when they are prescribed a new medication, it’s clear we still have a lot of work to do,” said Community Catalyst Executive Director Rob Restuccia.

In the past two years, survey respondents said they have had to bring their doctors their X-rays, MRIs and other test results (30 percent of respondents overall and 35 percent of those with multiple chronic conditions); play the role of a communicator between doctors (29 percent of respondents); and unravel conflicting information from different doctors (one in five respondents). Many also expressed frustrations about not having enough time with physicians (nearly one in five).

Other key findings include:
• 40 percent of people who take five or more medications, 47 percent of heavy users of the health care system, and one in three people age 50 or older say their doctors do not talk to them about potential interactions with other drugs or over-the-counter medications when prescribing new medications.

• 45 percent of heavy users of the health care system, 40 percent of those with multiple chronic conditions, and 29 percent of respondents overall have had to act as a communicator between doctors who weren’t talking to each other.

• One in eight respondents (13 percent) has had to redo a test or procedure because the doctor or hospital did not have the earlier results.

• Three-quarters of heavy users of the health care system (76 percent) have left a doctor’s office or hospital confused about what to do at home.

• Three-quarters of adults 50 and older (76 percent) say they are worried that the quality of health care services they receive will get worse in the future.

“This survey paints a picture of a health care system that is failing,” said NHeLP Executive Director Emily Spitzer. “Millions of older patients have experienced problems related to a lack of communication and coordination – problems that are avoidable. Ninety-five percent said improving the quality of health care services in this country, like care coordination and communication, is important to them and by a two-to-one margin they said quality has gotten worse rather than better over the past five years. These numbers are staggering.”

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