Do unmet expectations for specific tests, referrals, and new medications reduce patients' satisfaction?

J Gen Intern Med. 2004 Nov;19(11):1080-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2004.30436.x.


Background: Patient-centered care requires clinicians to recognize and act on patients' expectations. However, relatively little is known about the specific expectations patients bring to the primary care visit.

Objective: To describe the nature and prevalence of patients' specific expectations for tests, referrals, and new medications, and to examine the relationship between fulfillment of these expectations and patient satisfaction.

Design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting: VA general medicine clinic.

Patients/participants: Two hundred fifty-three adult male outpatients seeing their primary care provider for a scheduled visit.

Measurements and main results: Fifty-six percent of patients reported at least 1 expectation for a test, referral, or new medication. Thirty-one percent had 1 expectation, while 25% had 2 or more expectations. Expectations were evenly distributed among tests, referrals, and new medications (37%, 30%, and 33%, respectively). Half of the patients who expressed an expectation did not receive one or more of the desired tests, referrals, or new medications. Nevertheless, satisfaction was very high (median of 1.5 for visit-specific satisfaction on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 representing "excellent"). Satisfaction was not related to whether expectations were met or unmet, except that patients who did not receive desired medications reported lower satisfaction.

Conclusions: Patients' expectations are varied and often vague. Clinicians trying to implement the values of patient-centered care must be prepared to elicit, identify, and address many expectations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities
  • Communication
  • Drug Prescriptions
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina
  • Patient Participation
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data
  • Veterans / psychology