Investigation of the ways in which patients' reports of their satisfaction with healthcare are constructed

Sociol Health Illn. 2004 Mar;26(2):159-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2004.00385.x.


A characteristic feature of patient satisfaction research is the consistently high level of satisfaction recorded. More reliable and relevant inquiry tools are constantly being developed, but underlying psychological and social pressures that could promote such a consistent and undiscriminating response have been little investigated. Williams et al. (1998) explored the phenomenon and concluded that, by considering issues of duty and culpability, patients could make allowances for poor care, and avoid evaluating it negatively. Their study was in community mental health. This study follows up their work within elective orthopaedic surgery, and investigates the pressures promoting such apparent transformation of opinion. Using a longitudinal design, and in-depth qualitative interviews, the patient's process of reflection was explored. Three psycho-social pressures were identified that appear to work together to make the transformation of opinion almost the default process. They are: the relative dependency of patients within the healthcare system; their need to maintain constructive working relationships with those providing their care; and their general preference for holding a positive outlook. It is suggested that, while it is the patient's prerogative to re-interpret the quality of their care positively, it is not the prerogative of the inquirer to accept this re-interpretation as representative of the patient's experience. Methods of inquiry are needed which access something of patients' development of opinion, and thereby something of their initial, often more negative, untransformed responses to their healthcare experiences.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / psychology
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / standards
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orthopedic Procedures / psychology*
  • Orthopedic Procedures / standards
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Psychometrics / methods*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Health Care / classification*
  • Researcher-Subject Relations
  • Social Perception
  • Sociology, Medical