Objective: To describe internal medicine patients' expectations for care during office visits and to examine the relationship between fulfillment of expectations for care and visit satisfaction.
Design: Survey of patients and their physicians.
Setting: The internal medicine practice of faculty and housestaff at a large academic center in Southern California.
Patients: 396 patients aged 18 to 65 years were approached in the clinic waiting room prior to their scheduled visits; 337 (85%) agreed to participate and 304 (77%) turned in completed questionnaires. Postvisit physician surveys were received in 88% of the cases.
Main measurements: The patients' previsit reports of the elements of care they thought necessary for their physicians to provide; the patients' and physicians' postvisit reports of the elements of care actually provided; and the patients' satisfaction with care.
Results: Among 28 specific elements of care, seven were considered necessary by a majority of the patients (examination of the eyes/ears/nose/throat, lungs, heart, and abdomen; blood testing; prognostic counseling; and discussion of patients' own ideas about management). A higher number of elements of care were thought necessary by patients who were nonwhite and had not completed college. Up to 38% of the patients reported not receiving elements of care they had considered necessary; specific agreement between physicians and patients about care not received ranged from 63% to 100%. Not receiving certain "necessary" elements of care was associated with lower visit satisfaction.
Conclusion: Internal medicine patients at the center studied had specific expectations for the content of their physician visits. However, they routinely failed to receive some of the items they thought necessary. Unless patients' expectations are carefully elicited and dealt with the physician-patient relationship may be adversely affected.