Association of patient satisfaction with complaints and risk management among emergency physicians

J Emerg Med. 2011 Oct;41(4):405-11. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2010.10.021. Epub 2011 Jan 7.


Background: Patient-physician interactions in the emergency department (ED) are unique in that prior relationships may not exist; interactions are brief, and the environment is hectic.

Objectives: The research hypotheses were that patient satisfaction scores on a commonly used national satisfaction survey are associated with patient complaints and risk management file openings or lawsuits (risk management episodes).

Methods: Administrative databases from an emergency physician management group that staffs 34 EDs in 8 states were merged with patient satisfaction data. Dates of inclusion were January 2002-April 2006. Estimates of physician contribution to satisfaction utilized a multi-level mixed-effects linear regression with a random-effect for practice site and physician, and fixed-effect adjustments for patient factors, time pressures, acuity mix, and physician productivity. Adjusted satisfaction scores were used to explore the relationship with complaints and risk management episodes.

Main outcome measure: Association of patient satisfaction scores with risk of complaint and risk management episodes.

Results: There were 3947 physician-quarters of practice data analyzed, representing 2,462,617 patient visits. There were 375 complaints and 61 risk management episodes. Those in the lowest quartile of satisfaction were nearly twice as likely to have a complaint (adjusted odds ratio 1.84; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.29-2.63) as those in the highest quartile. Satisfaction was not directly related to risk management episodes. Complaints were more strongly associated with risk management episodes than other variables: those receiving ≥ 2 complaints in a quarter were 4.13 (95% CI 1.12-15.2) times more likely to have a risk management episode.

Conclusions: Patient satisfaction scores are not associated with increased risk management episodes but are closely related to receiving complaints. Receiving complaints is a strong marker for increased risk management episodes and should prompt early corrective action.

MeSH terms

  • Emergency Medicine / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Malpractice / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Management / statistics & numerical data*