Rationale, aims and objectives: The aim of the study was to answer three questions: first, what methods have been used to measure patient assessments of the quality of care? Second, how do outpatients rate their care? And third, what needs to be taken into account in measuring patient assessments of the quality of care?
Methods: Systematic review of the literature. Electronic searches were conducted on Medline, CINAHL and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. To be included, articles were to deal with patients' assessments of health care in ambulatory units for somatic adult patients. They were to have been published between January 2000 and May 2005, written in English, Swedish or Finnish with an English abstract, and the research was to have been conducted in Europe. The search terms used were: ambulatory care, ambulatory care facilities, outpatient, outpatients, patient satisfaction and quality of health care. The articles were screened by two independent reviewers in three phases.
Results: Thirty-five articles were included. The quality of care was measured using both quantitative and qualitative methods. Only a few studies relied on the single criterion of patient satisfaction for quality measurements. It is easy to identify common sources of dissatisfaction in different studies. Sources of satisfaction are more closely dependent on the target population, the context and research design.
Conclusion: Patient satisfaction is widely used as one indicator among others in assessing the quality of outpatient care. However, there is no single, universally accepted method for measuring this.