Help Me Understand

Western New Yorkers say they need clear and comprehensible information to help them make better and more proactive decisions about their health.

How is Western New York Doing?

Western New Yorkers give their providers high scores on measures of patient-provider communication.

The communication skills of doctors and nurses measure patient accessibility to the information they need to make important decisions related to their health, including providing self care and adhering to treatment plans. Western New Yorkers give high ratings for communication between doctors and hospital patients, with about three out of four saying their doctors always communicated well by showing respect, listening and explaining things in a way the patient can understand. Nonetheless, this still falls short of the 80 percent national average. Slightly fewer - 69 percent of hospital patients - described their nurses in the same way. Health plan customers in the region report similar experiences with how well their doctors in an outpatient setting explain things, as well as listen and show respect. In fact, in this area, regional averages for health plans mirror national averages.

Western New Yorkers reveal less positive experiences in terms of time spent with their providers.

When patients feel doctors spend enough time with them during the care encounter, they are likely satisfied with the opportunity to discuss their health status to the extent that they need. This may include having the time to ask the doctor questions, with the doctor also taking the time necessary to explain the patient's clinical prognosis and related treatments clearly and in a way that relates to the patient. On this measure, Western New Yorkers report mixed results, with nearly 70 percent of commercial health plan customers saying their doctors always spend enough time, a rate above national averages. This is not the case for customers of Medicaid plans, where only 60 percent report consistently positive experiences, which falls below national averages for this category.

Satisfaction levels on key elements of this priority differed between typically low-income customers of Medicaid health plans and customers of commercial health plans.

In addition to gaps in satisfaction with how much time their doctor spends with them, Medicaid customers in the region experience more frustration than commercial plan customers on all measures of patient-provider communication, particularly when it comes to doctors explaining things in a way the patient can understand. Notably, low-income participants of this effort's community conversations addressed the need for better patient-provider communication more frequently than conversation participants did overall. These divergences might relate to the generally poorer health status - and thus greater number and complexity of health conditions - of Medicaid patients, requiring more support as well as time from providers. Also, health literacy gaps due to lower education levels may exacerbate the communication gaps for the region's population of Medicaid recipients. Finally, lower Medicaid reimbursement levels create financial incentives for providers to limit the time spent with such patients.

Only about one in two Western New York health plan customers are satisfied with the help they receive from their plan's customer service, though these levels are higher than national averages, especially when commercial plans were evaluated.

Health plans are an important source of information about a very complex health system, and can help patients understand options for care, including access to providers, tests and treatments. Yet only 56 percent of the region's commercial health plan customers say they always got what they needed in terms of help or information from health plan customer service, with satisfaction levels lower for Medicaid enrollees. This reveals a rather significant gap in the health information available to Western New Yorkers. With incomplete information about coverage, residents here are limited in their ability to take full advantage of coverage available. While the top-rated health plan on this measure reaches a 62 percent satisfaction rate for commercial plan customers, the lowest scoring plan falls below 50 percent. That said, Western New Yorkers across all plans still find more help from their plans than the average health plan customer across the nation.

Western New Yorkers give their hospitals top ratings for assisting them through the discharge process, but evaluate them poorly for explaining new medications offered to them while in the hospital.

Clearly communicated discharge information - information about help available outside the hospital or written instructions about symptoms or health problems to monitor - is important in helping the patient understand needed follow-up care, including self care. In fact, a written discharge plan is included in New York State's patient bill of rights. The region shows high levels of satisfaction with this measure, with eight in 10 patients reporting that they received this information. Also important to convey to patients in the hospital is instructions about new medications given, including possible side effects and why the medication is being offered. Indeed, taking medication incorrectly or not understanding side effects can have serious ramifications. Yet this is an area where Western New Yorkers expressed some of their lowest levels of satisfaction, with nearly 50 percent experiencing an incident where hospital staff did not provide information about a new medication.

Help Me Understand: Performance Comparison

Performance Measures WNY Compared to
U.S. average
Communication with Doctors
Communication with Nurses
How Well Doctors Communicate by Making Things Understandable (Commercial)
How Well Doctors Communicate by Listening (Commercial)
How Well Doctors Communicate by Showing Respect (Commercial)
How Often Doctors Spend Enough Time (Commercial)
Getting Information or Help From Health Plan Customer Service (Commercial)
Discharge Information
Communication about Medications

Data Gaps for this Priority

  • See How to Reach Excellence Together for data opportunities
  • The region on how well providers support patients in self-care or informed health decision making, including how often doctors follow up with patients on test results or information promised during a visit

Chart Legend

Data are from the CAHPS nationwide patient experience surveys of hospital patients and health plan customers, including 24 hospitals and three health plans in Western New York. See Measuring Methods for more information.

- Hospital Indicator
- Health Plan Indicator
- Risk Factor Indicator

- Above U.S. Average
- Same as U.S. Average
- Below U.S. Average
- Average Not Available