Background: Although patient satisfaction is widely used as a quality indicator, most such measures do not account for patient subgroups such as those with psychiatric illness. There is also very little data on satisfaction of psychiatric patients with their medical care.
Objective: The objective of this study was to assess the role of psychiatric illness in satisfaction with outpatient primary care services in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Method: Data from the VA Customer Feedback Survey (n = 50,532) were merged with administrative data to determine diagnoses and other characteristics. Satisfaction ratings were compared across psychiatric diagnoses and across various aspects of satisfaction with care.
Results: After controlling for patient characteristics (eg, gender, age, disability, acute vs. routine visit) and subjective health, patients with schizophrenia, posttraumatic stress disorder, drug abuse, depression, and other psychiatric disorders reported significantly lower satisfaction with their outpatient primary care. Dissatisfaction was particularly reported for access to care and overall coordination of care.
Conclusions: Despite VA characteristics that might be thought to improve satisfaction (eg, easier access to specialty mental health services as a result of the integrated VA system), patients with psychiatric disorders are significantly less satisfied than patients without such disorders. Possible explanations include both lower technical quality of care and poorer interpersonal communication between providers and patients with mental illness, including the negative effects of stigma. These findings highlight the need for satisfaction ratings to be case-mix-adjusted, including the incorporation of health and mental health diagnoses, and the need for further research that elucidates the reasons behind lower satisfaction ratings.