Background: The Patient Participation Program (PPP) was a patient satisfaction survey endorsed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and designed to assist general practitioners in continuous quality improvement (CQI). The survey was been undertaken by 3500 practices and over a million patients between 1994 and 2003. This study aimed to use pooled patient questionnaire data to investigate changes in satisfaction with primary care over time.
Methods: The results of 10 years of the PPP surveys were analyzed with respect to 10 variables including the year of completion, patient age, gender, practice size, attendance at other doctors, and whether the practice had previously undertaken the survey. Comparisons were made using Logistic Generalized Estimating Equations (LGEE).
Results: There was a very high level of satisfaction with general practice in Australia (99% of respondents). An independent indicator of satisfaction was created by pooling the results of 12 questions. This new indicator had a greater variance than the single overall satisfaction question. Participants were shown to have higher levels of satisfaction if they were male, older, did not attend other practitioners or the practice was small in size. A minimal improvement in satisfaction was detected in this pooled indicator for the second or third survey undertaken by a practice. There was however no statistically significant change in pooled satisfaction with the year of survey.
Conclusion: The very high level of satisfaction made it difficult to demonstrate change. It is likely that this and the presentation of results made it difficult for GPs to use the survey to improve their practices. A more useful survey would be more sensitive to detect negative patient opinions and provide integrated feedback to GPs. At present, there are concerns about the usefulness of the PPP in continuous quality improvement in general practice.