Background: Client or consumer expectation is considered to influence their satisfaction with the service provided, but its importance has not been quantified in health care.
Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the effect of "patient expectations of care" on satisfaction with care provided by out-of-hours services.
Methods: We surveyed 3457 patients who requested out-of-hours care from five practices, two general practice out-of-hours co-operatives and a deputizing service in an English health authority during late 1997. The independent variables were: the service providing the care (service type), where out-of-hours care was given (location of care) and whether the care met the patient's expectations. The independent variable was overall patient satisfaction with out-of-hours care.
Results: Patients who received the care they hoped for (their idealized expectation was met) were more satisfied than those who did not. Patients who attended centres were more satisfied with the care received than those who had had home visits. Patients were more satisfied if they received care from the co-operative which did not employ assistants than from the deputizing service. Idealized expectation (care which was hoped for) match, location of care and service type explained 34, 2 and 4% of the variance, respectively. Age, sex, ethnicity, access to a car, normative/comparative expectation (care which was expected) and whether patients expected and received telephone advice, a home visit or domiciliary care, and the delay between request for care and care provision were not independently associated with satisfaction.
Conclusions: Meeting or failing to meet the care patients hoped for is an important predictor of patient satisfaction with out-of-hours care. Purchasers and providers of out-of-hours care should consider whether and how patient expectation of service can be managed. This may reduce patient dissatisfaction with the service they provide. These findings also have important implications for the design of studies which use patient satisfaction as an outcome variable.