We’re hearing from a lot of different groups lately about what’s wrong with health care and how to fix it. But what do patients think? To find out, we asked Massachusetts residents who said they had a serious illness, medical condition, injury or disability requiring a lot of medical care, or spent at least one night in the hospital within the last year.
Our poll, Sick in Massachusetts, finds that 48 percent those who responded said they are very satisfied with their health care. (Click through the charts below for some of the poll’s other findings on quality. The poll was conducted in partnership with the Harvard School of Public Health, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation and WBUR.)
BOSTON — Given the state’s reputation for having high-quality medical care, it’s not surprising that 48 percent of those who responded to our recent health care poll said they are very satisfied with their health care. Among them is 71-year-old Bill Moreau, of Westborough, who has a litany of health issues.
“I had a spot on my lung that turned into cancer, then I had chemo and radiation and that killed half my heart so I had a quadruple bypass surgery,” Moreau said. “I have diabetes and hypertension — I know there’s probably something I’m missing. If I haven’t had it, it’s coming.”
Moreau didn’t think he would be still be alive today. Three years ago, he returned to his native Massachusetts from Florida, where the doctors were not optimistic.
“They told me, ‘Make arrangements, we can’t do anything more for you,’ ” Moreau said. “So I came up here to die. I didn’t come for treatment. I came up to die. The doctors started checking me. They didn’t say there’s nothing left for us to do.”
Although many of those in our survey expressed opinions similar to Moreau’s, about four in 10 sick adults said there is a serious problem with health care quality. One in seven sick adults said they were actually given the wrong diagnosis or treatment. Forty-nine-year-old Deborah Chamberlain is one of them.
“It really was hell,” Chamberlain said. “I lost a lot of weight. I lost a lot of strength.”
After Chamberlain was prescribed an antibiotic before a root canal, she went on a three-week odyssey that shows that even a savvy patient can get into trouble.
Chamberlain knew that the antibiotic carried a risk of infection and she warned her providers, but still she was misdiagnosed and almost put herself in danger.
“I was in the hospital for four days and I felt horrible,” she said. “I was on pain medication, but they had to take me off that because narcotic pain meds slow down your bowel. If I had taken anything to slow down my diarrhea, the toxins build in your system and that causes kidney failure and death.”
This was the more surprising finding of the poll — that most patients warned their doctors before something went wrong. If there were three words to express most patients’ complaints, they would be: lack of communication. Many patients said doctors did not share test results, or did not spend enough time with them.
After Jean Wheaton-Doyon went in for surgery for gastro-reflux disease, she was having pain. After six weeks of weekly checkups, which involved a chest X-ray each time, she was still concerned, but her doctor told her to wait. Not only did her pain not go away, the evening after one of her checkups, her husband called an ambulance.
“I passed out,” Wheaton-Doyon said. “I was dripping wet and alone, nobody home. I could not move, couldn’t help myself. My husband found me about an hour and a half later, I ended up in the ER. After all-night testing, they discovered I had a pericardial effusion — that’s when the sack around your heart fills with fluid.”
Wheaton-Doyon said her ordeal could have been prevented if her doctor had physically examined her that day.
“If he had just listened to me with that stethoscope that morning, he would have heard a rub and I wouldn’t have had to have the fluid drained, I never would have been dying alone,” Wheaton-Doyon said.
Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said doctors or nurses not spending enough time with patients is a major problem in Massachusetts. But even satisfied patients admit that all care is not equal.
“My concern is for those who do not have private insurance,” said Sharon Cody Turcott, a nurse educator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. “I can’t imagine how they would get through something like this.”
Cody Turcott survived three unrelated cancers, and her chemo medication costs $4,000 a month. She has nothing but good things to say about her insurer and her care, but she also sees firsthand that it’s not the same for all patients.
“I do believe I have been fortunate, just because I work for a health care institution,” Cody Turcott said. “I have better access because I’m here at a hospital. I feel that I have an advantage over those who do not have private insurance.”
The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and WBUR worked in partnership to produce Sick in Massachusetts. The foundation commissioned and funded the HSPH poll. An independent research firm, SSRS, conducted the telephone interviews and provided WBUR with the names of poll participants. WBUR met with the partners to review the poll questions and analyze the results. WBUR shared story scripts with HSPH’s Robert Blendon for fact-checking purposes. WBUR, using internal editing procedures, decided how to frame and expand on issues raised by the results.