Objective: To determine the extent to which chronic illness and disease severity affect patient satisfaction with their primary care provider in general internal medicine clinics.
Design: Cross-sectional mailed questionnaire study.
Setting: Primary care clinics at 7 Veterans Affairs medical centers.
Patients/participants: Of 62,487 patients participating in the Ambulatory Care Quality Improvement Project, 35,383 (57%) returned an initial screening questionnaire and were subsequently sent a satisfaction questionnaire. Patients (N=21,689; 61%) who returned the Seattle Outpatient Satisfaction Survey (SOSQ) were included in the final analysis, representing 34% of the original sample.
Measurements and main results: The organizational score of the SOSQ measures satisfaction with health care services in the internal medicine clinic, and the humanistic scale measures patient satisfaction with the communication skills and humanistic qualities of the primary care physician. For ischemic heart disease (IHD), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and diabetes, patient ability to cope with their disease was more strongly associated with patient satisfaction than disease severity. Among IHD patients, improvement in ability to cope emotionally with their angina was associated with higher SOSQ organizational scores (standardized beta=0.18; P<.001) but self-reported physical limitation due to angina was not (beta=0.01; P=.65). Similarly, in COPD, improved ability to cope with dyspnea was associated with greater organizational scores (beta=0.11; P<.001) but physical function was not (beta=-0.03; P=.27). For diabetes, increased education was associated with improved organizational scores (beta=0.31; P<.001) but improvement in symptom burden was not (beta=0.03; P=.14). Similar results were seen with prediction of SOSQ humanistic scores.
Conclusions: Patient education and ability to cope with chronic conditions are more strongly associated with satisfaction with their primary care provider than disease severity. Further improvements in patient education and self-management may lead to improved satisfaction and quality of care.