Patient expectations for management of chronic non-cancer pain: A systematic review

Health Expect. 2017 Dec;20(6):1201-1217. doi: 10.1111/hex.12527. Epub 2016 Dec 23.


Background: Chronic pain is a major economic and social health problem. Up to 79% of chronic pain patients are unsatisfied with their pain management. Meeting patients' expectations is likely to produce greater satisfaction with care. The challenge is to explore patients' genuine expectations and needs. However, the term expectation encompasses several concepts and may concern different aspects of health-care provision.

Objective: This review aimed to systematically collect information on types and subject of patients' expectations for chronic pain management.

Search strategy: We searched for quantitative and qualitative studies. Because of the multidimensional character of the term "expectations," the search included subject headings and free text words related to the concept of expectations.

Data extraction and synthesis: A framework for understanding patients' expectations was used to map types of expectations within structure, process or outcome of health care.

Main results: Twenty-three research papers met the inclusion criteria: 18 quantitative and five qualitative. This review found that assessment of patients' expectations for treatment is mostly limited to outcome expectations (all 18 quantitative papers and four qualitative papers). Patients generally have high expectations regarding pain reduction after treatment, but expectations were higher when expressed as an ideal expectation (81-93% relief) than as a predicted expectation (44-64%).

Discussion and conclusions: For health-care providers, for pain management and for pain research purposes, the awareness that patients express different types of expectations is important. For shared decision making in clinical practice, it is important that predicted expectations of the patient are known to the treating physician and discussed. Structure and process expectations are under-represented in our findings. However, exploring and meeting patients' expectations regarding structure, process and outcome aspects of pain management may increase patient satisfaction.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Pain / psychology
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Patient Outcome Assessment
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Physician-Patient Relations