Background: Patients communicate their desires and expectations largely by making requests. However, the antecedents and consequences of request fulfillment have received limited attention.
Objective: To describe patient and physician characteristics associated with request fulfillment and to understand the consequences of request fulfillment and nonfulfillment on visit evaluations by patients and physicians, self-reported health care use, and health outcomes.
Design: Data were gathered from patient and physician surveys administered at several points before and after problem-driven outpatient visits.
Setting: The study was carried out in the office practices of 45 family practice, internal medicine, and cardiology physicians working either in a large multispecialty group practice or in a group-model health maintenance organization.
Patients: Data were collected at the index visit from 909 patients (cooperation rate, 68%; net response rate, 32%). A telephone follow-up survey was administered to 887 (98%) of these patients 2 weeks after the visit.
Measurements: Before the visit, patients provided ratings of their health concerns, physical functioning, role limitations, general health perceptions, and trust in the index physician. After the visit, patients reported on any request that they made, physician responses to these requests, and their satisfaction with care. At the 2-week follow-up evaluation, patients again reported on satisfaction, health concerns, health status, and self-reported postvisit health care use.
Results: Patients reported making at least one request in 84% of encounters; requests for medical information, examination, and tests or procedures were most common. Four-fifths of patients who made at least one request reported complete fulfillment of all requests. Perceived request fulfillment was significantly lower among patients with relatively low pr-visit trust in the treating physician. Higher request fulfillment was predictive of more positive patient evaluations of care. Visits in which requests could not be completely fulfilled were rated by physicians as more demanding and less satisfying. Request fulfillment was also positively associated with fewer health concerns and greater symptom improvement at follow up. Nonfulfillment of patient requests did not predict postvisit health care use.
Conclusions: Request fulfillment affects patient and physician satisfaction and perceptions of health outcomes. New approaches that efficiently recognize and respond to patient requests are needed.