Satisfaction with Primary Care Providers and Health Care Services Among Patients with Chronic Pain: a Mixed-Methods Study

J Gen Intern Med. 2020 Jan;35(1):190-197. doi: 10.1007/s11606-019-05339-2. Epub 2019 Oct 21.


Background: Chronic pain is a prevalent health concern in the United States (US) and a frequent reason for patients to seek primary care. The challenges associated with developing effective pain management strategies can be perceived as a burden on the patient-provider relationship.

Objective: This study explored the relationship between patients' overall satisfaction with their primary care providers (PCPs) and their satisfaction with their chronic pain treatment, as well as the provider behaviors that contributed to chronic pain patients' satisfaction with their PCPs.

Design: Concurrent nested mixed-methods design PARTICIPANTS: 97 patients with chronic pain who were assigned to the usual care arm of the Pain Program for Active Coping and Training (PPACT) study.

Approach: We analyzed phone interview and survey data (n = 97). Interviews assessed provider behaviors that led to patient satisfaction. Interview transcripts were analyzed based on a content analysis approach. Survey responses assessed patient satisfaction with primary care and pain services. We calculated a Pearson's correlation coefficient using five response categories.

Key results: Interviews revealed that high satisfaction with primary care was driven by five concrete PCP behaviors: (1) listening, (2) maintaining communication with patients, (3) acting as an access point to comprehensive pain care, (4) providing an honest assessment of the possibilities of pain care, and (5) taking time during consultations with patients. In surveys, participants reported higher satisfaction with their primary care services than with the pain services they received; these variables were only moderately correlated (r = 0.586).

Conclusions: Results suggest that patients with chronic pain can view the relationship with their PCPs as positive, even in the face of low satisfaction with their pain treatment. The expectations that these patients held of PCPs could be met regardless of providers' ability to successfully relieve chronic pain.

Keywords: chronic pain; mixed methods; primary care relationship; treatment satisfaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural