Background: Patient satisfaction is an indicator of the quality of care provided by emergency department (ED) personnel. It is this perception of satisfaction that becomes the basis for future ED choice or the recommendation of a specific ED to other potential patients.
Objective: To perform an evidence-based literature review to: 1) characterize measures of "patient satisfaction"; 2) identify factors that have been associated with overall ED patient satisfaction; 3) critique the methods used to assess patient satisfaction in the literature; and 4) address how this information can be beneficial to those reading the satisfaction literature or designing a satisfaction survey instrument.
Methods: The MEDLINE database was searched for studies addressing ED patient satisfaction, from January 1976 through July 1999, using MeSH terms and a text word search. Bibliographies of manuscripts also were searched for additional relevant articles and each clinical study was used as a search criterion in Science Citation Index, from the date of publication through July 1999.
Results: Multiple measures have been used to evaluate overall patient satisfaction. Sixteen studies were found associating ED patient satisfaction with service and patient factors. Most studies are observational and of these, most are cross-sectional. Hence, cause-and-effect determination of factors responsible for patient satisfaction cannot be resolved using the current literature.
Conclusions: Despite considerable methodologic variability, key themes (e.g., association of satisfaction with patient information, provider-patient interpersonal factors, and perceived waiting time) emerge from review of the ED patient satisfaction literature. To standardize future investigations, clinicians and investigators should use a common definition for the state of overall patient satisfaction, e.g., when the patient's own expectations for treatment and care are met (or exceeded). This common definition should be incorporated into the instrument used to measure overall ED patient satisfaction.