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New national survey details Americans' experiences with health care services

New data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality indicate that slightly more than half of those Americans age 18 and older (53.8 percent) who do not live in institutions or serve in the military always received urgent medical care as soon as they wanted it in calendar year 2000. Although there was very little difference between blacks and whites aged 18 to 64 in their reports of timeliness of receiving urgent care—51.5 percent and 52.9 percent respectively—only 41.2 percent of Hispanics reported always receiving urgent care when they wanted it.

The data, which are taken from a new questionnaire incorporated into AHRQ's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), indicate that among people aged 18 to 64, those without insurance were more likely than those with coverage to report sometimes or never receiving urgent care as soon as they wanted it (28.6 percent, uninsured; 19.1 percent, publicly insured; and 16.1 percent, privately insured). MEPS collects information yearly on health care use, access to care, health status, and quality from a nationally representative sample of 24,000 individuals and 10,000 households.

The questions were taken from AHRQ's Consumer Assessment of Health Plans (CAHPS®), a research-based, validated survey tool that assesses people's experiences with their own health plans. Respondents were asked about the timeliness in which they received urgent and routine medical care and they also were asked about their experiences during care. These measures will be included in the AHRQ National Quality Report, first due out in 2003, which will provide information to policymakers, providers, and consumers to monitor the Nation's progress toward improved health care quality.

The detailed findings include:

  • In 2000, 72.3 percent (145.4 million) of the U.S. population aged 18 and older visited a doctor or medical clinic in the 12 months prior to the survey. Of that total, 82.6 percent reported no problems receiving the care they or their doctor believed was necessary; 89.8 percent said their health care providers always or usually listened carefully to them; and 84 percent said their health providers always or usually spent enough time with them.
  • Among those receiving care, blacks (64.4 percent) were more likely than whites (58.6 percent) or Hispanics (53.1 percent) to say their providers always explained things in a way they could understand.
  • Fewer than half of all those surveyed (43 percent) said they always received an appointment at a clinic or doctor's office as soon as they wanted. But people age 65 and older (54.7 percent) were more likely to say they always obtained an appointment as soon as they wanted.
  • A majority of patients who visited a doctor's office at least one time in the previous 12 months reported that health providers always treated them with respect (58.4 percent, always, 31.8 percent, usually; and 9.8 percent sometimes or never). People aged 65 and older were more likely than adults under 65 to report being treated with respect.
  • Among people aged 18-64, those with private insurance (84.5 percent) were more likely to say it was no problem getting needed care compared with those who had only public coverage (71.5 percent) and the uninsured (72.9 percent).

Additional information about these new quality-of-care measures is available on the MEPS Web site (PDF Help).

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