Objective: The purpose of this study was to explore the relationships among patients' perceptions about the roles they played during medical visits, their subsequent attitudes about their illnesses and treatments, and their self-rated improvement.
Design: Questionnaires were completed by patients before, one day after, and one week after their medical visits, and by their physicians following the visits.
Setting: The study was conducted in a general internal medicine faculty practice that provided adult primary care to a largely HMO population.
Participants: Adult patients with new or increased symptoms who were capable of reading and understanding the study questionnaire.
Main results: Fifty-five patients (47%) reported playing an active role; 62 patients (53%) reported playing a passive role. After adjusting for age, sex, baseline illness ratings, and physician-rated prognosis, "active" patients reported less discomfort (p = 0.04), greater alleviation of symptoms (p = 0.008), and more improvement in their general medical condition (p = 0.04) one week after the visits than did "passive" patients. These differences were not influenced by the roles patients desired to play. Active patients also reported less concern with their illnesses (p = 0.04), a greater sense of control of their illnesses (p = 0.04), and more satisfaction with their physicians (p = 0.02) one day after the visit. Post-visit dysfunction ratings were not related to patients' role perceptions.
Conclusions: Patients' perceptions about their involvement in care appeared to be related to their attitudes about their illnesses as well as to recovery. Further research is needed, however, to determine the factors that influence these role perceptions and to define the types of patients, illnesses, and settings in which the benefits of active-role perceptions are most likely to be realized.