Behind closed doors: management of patient expectations in primary care practices

Arch Intern Med. 2007 Mar 12;167(5):445-52. doi: 10.1001/archinte.167.5.445.


Background: Managed care restrictions on resource use may affect communication between patients and health care professionals.

Methods: To characterize negotiations between primary care physicians and patients with expectations for new medications, tests, or referrals, this observational study combined survey data with audiotape recordings of clinical encounters. Fifty-five physicians from 20 randomly selected primary care practices in a managed care network and 211 patients who voiced specific expectations in a previsit survey were included. From the recorded clinic visits we determined modes of negotiation of patient expectations and requests. From the surveys we determined patient previsit expectations, postvisit fulfillment of expectations, satisfaction, and trust.

Results: Two-hundred fifty-six self-reported expectations were captured in 200 audiotape-recorded encounters. Of the previsit expectations, 97.3% were discussed during the encounter. Expectations were expressed by direct patient request (40.6%), mentioning of symptoms related to request (29.7%), or physician-initiated discussion (27.0%). Most expectations were met (66.8%); physicians suggested an alternative 21.6% of the time. Expectations for medications and tests were met more frequently than expectations for referrals (75.6% and 71.4% vs 40.8%). Patient satisfaction and trust remained high regardless of whether expectations were met. Physicians reported that they would not have ordered 62 (44.9%) of 138 requests had the patients not directly asked, and they were uncomfortable filling 8 requests (12.9%).

Conclusions: Previsit expectations for medications, tests, or referrals were discussed at the visit, and physicians met or offered alternatives for nearly 90%. Patients generally received what they asked for and altered physician behavior nearly half of the time.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Managed Care Programs / standards
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians, Family / standards*
  • Primary Health Care / standards*
  • South Dakota
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tape Recording
  • Video Recording