Background: Primary care patients often have certain expectations when visiting physicians, many of which may be undetected. These unmet expectations can affect outcomes such as satisfaction with care. We performed a formal literature review to examine the effect of fulfillment of patients' visit-specific expectations on their satisfaction as well as on health status and compliance.
Patients and methods: Included studies were conducted in primary care settings, systematically recruited patients, elicited previsit and/or postvisit expectations relative to specific visits, and measured patient-centered outcomes. Two reviewers abstracted information on study characteristics; types, timing, and method of expectation ascertainment; and outcomes. Disagreements were resolved by consensus.
Results: Twenty-three studies were reviewed including 7 trials, 4 cohort studies, and 12 cross-sectional studies. Patients frequently expected information rather than specific physician actions, but physicians often did not accurately perceive patients' visit-specific expectations. In 19 studies that assessed postvisit patient satisfaction, a positive association between meeting patient expectations and overall satisfaction was demonstrated in 11 studies, inconclusive in 3, and not established in 5. In 2 studies assessing physician satisfaction, physicians with access to patients' expectations were more satisfied than those without access. Other outcomes (symptom or disease improvement, health status, test ordering, health care costs, psychological symptoms) were measured in only a few studies, and the results were inconclusive.
Conclusions: Addressing patients' visit-specific expectations appears to affect satisfaction to a modest degree. Future studies should evaluate methods that efficiently elicit, prioritize, and provide patients' previsit expectations for physicians and should examine the longitudinal effect of expectation fulfillment on patient outcomes. Arch Fam Med. 2000;9:1148-1155