Despite Expected Setbacks from the Pandemic, Massachusetts Primary Care Practices Still Improved Patient Experiences in 2021

(March 2022) MHQP’s Statewide Patient Experience Survey Shows Unsurprising Losses Paired with Impressive Gains During the Pandemic

Despite the enormous challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Massachusetts primary care practices were able to collectively improve experiences for their patients on several key metrics in 2021 as compared to 2019, based on the results of MHQP’s statewide survey of patient experiences in the state.

MHQP had fielded its annual survey assessing patient experiences in primary care, the only statewide survey of its kind, for 15 years when complications from the pandemic caused its cancellation in 2020. The survey resumed in 2021, allowing for comparison of 2021 results to 2019 results.

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Primary care practices throughout the state have experienced significant obstacles over the past two years as the pandemic forced them to quickly adjust how care was delivered to most patients. The results of the survey confirm the impact of this shift, as adult patients reported less favorable experiences accessing care and parents reported less favorable experiences seeing a provider to assess their children’s development. As would be expected during a pandemic, there were also declines in categories related to behavioral health and pediatric preventive care. Specifically, adult patients reported that they were asked by their provider about stress or possible depression less often than in previous years. Scores for pediatric preventive care went down as well, a clear result of the shifting priorities caused by the pandemic.

At the same time, however, the survey results show unexpected and notable increases in performance in key service categories. This includes how well providers communicate with their patients, coordinate patient care, and know their patients. Most striking was an increase in how well patients were treated by the office staff. During an extremely frustrating time for many patients, it appears the office staff in primary care practices across the state went “above and beyond” to be helpful and to treat patients with courtesy and respect.

Detailed results are summarized in the table below:

Category 2019 Score* 2021 Score % Change
Ease of Access to Care (Adult) 86.63 83.25 -3.9%
Ease of Access to Care (Pediatric) 93.41 92.27 -1.2%
Assessment of Patient Behavioral Health Issues (Adult) 73.80 70.73 -4.2%
Pediatric Preventive Care (Pediatric) 75.76 67.92 -10.3%
Assessment of Child Development (Pediatric) 80.02 77.20 -3.5%
Patient-Provider Communications (Adult) 94.69 96.42 +1.8%
Patient-Provider Communications (Pediatric) 97.35 98.59 +1.3%
Coordinating Patient Care (Adult) 86.91 89.04 +2.1%
How Well Providers Know Their Patients (Adult) 89.78 91.55 +2.0%
Office Staff Professional Excellence (Adult) 89.49 94.27 +5.3%
Office Staff Professional Excellence (Pediatric) 92.61 96.63 +4.3%

“Some of these results are truly remarkable,” said Barbra Rabson, MHQP’s President and CEO. “We fully expected performance to significantly decline with all the stresses that providers and office staff have been facing over the past two years.  But as these results show, primary care practices somehow rose above all the challenges they faced and achieved outstanding performance in patient experience during 2021.”

“I am especially impressed with the professionalism of office staff members who found ways to meet their patients’ needs at a time when patients have experienced so many challenges accessing care providers,” said Jim Roosevelt, MHQP’s Board Chair. “This a true testament to their dedication to the care and comfort of their patients.”

The results of the survey are posted on, MHQP’s consumer-facing website. This site provides detailed patient experience results for primary care offices throughout the state, offering consumers the ability to compare performance across practices. This unique resource can help patients and families find the primary care clinicians that best suit their needs.

About MHQP’s Statewide Patient Experience Survey

MHQP’s patient experience survey asks people what actually happened when they or their children received primary care services. The survey fielded in the spring of 2021 sampled commercially-insured patients from 610 adult and 225 pediatric primary care practices statewide, representing over 3,300 primary care providers. MHQP received over 38,000 responses to this survey. First conducted in 2005, the survey asks patients to rate the quality of certain doctor-patient interactions and other aspects of care using a nationally developed standard survey instrument.

The following organizations invested resources to support MHQP’s 2021 Patient Experience Survey and sustain statewide transparency of patient experience in Massachusetts: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and Tufts Health Plan. In addition, the following provider organizations added their financial support: Lowell General PHO, Mount Auburn Cambridge IPA, New England Quality Care Alliance, Mass General Brigham, and The Pediatric Physicians’ Organization at Children’s Hospital Boston.


* All survey responses are coded to a 0 to 100 scale so that questions with different response options may be easily combined. Higher values indicate more positive responses.

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