Background: Sicker patients are less satisfied with the quality of health care they receive than their healthier counterparts.
Methods: A sample of 12,018 community-dwelling Medicare beneficiaries 65 years or older from the 2004 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey was studied. Multivariate regression was used to describe whether beneficiaries' self-reported satisfaction with their usual-care physician was related to the presence or functions assumed by visit companions.
Results: Overall, 38.6% of beneficiaries reported being typically accompanied to routine medical visits. Accompanied beneficiaries were older, less educated, and in worse health than their unaccompanied counterparts. More than 60% of companions facilitated visit communication by recording physician instructions (44.1%), providing information regarding patients' medical conditions or needs (41.6%), asking questions (41.1%), or explaining physicians' instructions (29.7%). After controlling for sociodemographic and health differences, accompanied beneficiaries were more highly satisfied with their physician's technical skills (odds ratio [OR], 1.15; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.02-1.30), information giving (OR, 1.19; 95% CI, 1.05-1.35), and interpersonal skills (OR, 1.18; 95% CI, 1.03-1.35) than unaccompanied beneficiaries. Accompanied beneficiaries whose visit companions were more actively engaged in communication rated physician information giving (OR, 1.42; 95% CI, 1.14-1.77) and interpersonal skills (OR, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.05-1.59) more favorably. This relationship was strongest among beneficiaries with the worst self-rated health.
Conclusions: Visit companions are commonly present in older adults' routine medical encounters, actively engaged in care processes, and influential to patients' satisfaction with physician care. More systematic recognition and integration of visit companions in health care processes may benefit quality of care for a particularly vulnerable patient population.