Sick in America: Nurses, Other Providers Stretched Thin

May 29, 2012, 1:00 PM

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), NPR and the Harvard School of Public Health commissioned a poll to better understand Americans’ experiences and attitudes related to the cost and quality of their medical care. Released on May 21st, Sick in America found that many Americans who experienced a serious illness or injury in the past 12 months are concerned about the financial costs of medical care, and struggle to ensure that their care is appropriate. Nearly nine in ten respondents (87 percent) think the cost of care is a serious problem for the country.

In addition to surveying the public, the poll examined sick Americans’ experiences and perceptions. “Sick Americans” (27 percent of adults surveyed) were defined as those who said they had a serious illness, medical condition, injury, or disability requiring a lot of medical care or who had been hospitalized overnight in the past 12 months. A quarter of sick Americans said a doctor, nurse, or other health professional did not provide all the needed information about their treatment or prescriptions – or they had to see multiple medical professionals, and no single doctor understood or kept track of all the different aspects of their medical issues and treatments (23 percent). Three in 10 hospitalized Americans said there was poor communication among the doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals involved in their care.

In addition, 34 percent of patients who were hospitalized for at least one night in the past year said “nurses weren’t available when needed or didn't respond quickly to requests for help.”

To learn more, NPR published a call-out to nurses on its Facebook page. It was a non-scientific way to gather information, NPR notes, but the response from nurses was significant. “We received hundreds of responses and read them all: piles of stories about nurses feeling overworked, getting no breaks, no lunches and barely enough time to go to the bathroom. Even worse, many nurses say breaks and lunchtimes are figured into their salaries and deducted, whether they take them or not,” NPR reported on Morning Edition.

The poll also found that consumers see a shortage of nurses and physicians as one of the problems with the quality of health care in the country today. Of the one-third of total respondents who were asked about major reasons for quality problem, 35 percent identified “not enough doctors or nurses in hospitals or medical offices” as a major problem.

Learn more about the Sick in America poll.

Listen to the story on NPR.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.