Understanding Patient Expectations of Health Care: A Qualitative Study

J Patient Exp. 2020 Dec;7(6):1724-1731. doi: 10.1177/2374373520921692. Epub 2020 Apr 28.


Understanding and measuring patient expectations of health care is central to improving patient satisfaction and delivering patient-centered care. However, most empiric research in this field has focused on measuring patient expectations for specific diseases only. Patient expectations common to a variety of settings and clinical contexts need to be better understood to design measures with wider utility. We aimed to understand how patients express and conceptualize their expectations of health care across a range of clinical contexts and conditions. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with patients presenting to a major metropolitan hospital, informed by interpretive phenomenological analysis. Sampling continued until thematic saturation. Interview topics explored the illness experience, interactions with clinicians, how patients communicated and conceptualized their expectations of health care, and the nature of these expectations. The 26 participants conceptualized and described their expectations in 3 distinct domains: (1) health outcomes, (2) individual clinicians, and (3) the health-care system. Importantly, these domains were consistent across a variety of clinical contexts, participant demographics, and medical conditions. Despite variation in expectations due to individual patient circumstances, we identified 3 conceptual domains within which expectations consistently lie. When designing measurement tools for patient expectations, we suggest incorporating questions specifically addressing the 3 domains we have identified. With such measures, clinicians and health-care providers can be empowered to provide and monitor patient-centered care with outcomes tailored to what patients desire.

Keywords: expectations; patient-centered care; qualitative research; quality improvement; satisfaction.