Background: Substantial research links many of the defining characteristics of primary care to important outcomes; yet little is known about the relative importance of each characteristic, and several characteristics have not been examined. These analyses evaluate the relationship between seven defining elements of primary care (accessibility, continuity, comprehensiveness, integration, clinical interaction, interpersonal treatment, and trust) and three outcomes (adherence to physician's advice, patient satisfaction, and improved health status).
Methods: Data were derived from a cross-sectional observational study of adults employed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (N = 7204). All patients completed a validated questionnaire, the Primary Care Assessment Survey. Regression methods were used to examine the association between each primary care characteristic (11 summary scales measuring 7 elements of care) and each outcome.
Results: Physicians' comprehensive ("whole person") knowledge of patients and patients' trust in their physician were the variables most strongly associated with adherence, and trust was the variable most strongly associated with patients' satisfaction with their physician. With other factors equal, adherence rates were 2.6 times higher among patients with whole-person knowledge scores in the 95th percentile compared with the 5th percentile (44.0% adherence vs 16.8% adherence, P < .001). The likelihood of complete satisfaction was 87.5% for those with 95th percentile trust scores compared with 0.4% for patients with 5th percentile trust scores (P < .001). The leading correlates of self-reported health improvements were integration of care, thoroughness of physical examinations, communication, comprehensive knowledge of patients, and trust (P < .001).
Conclusions: Patients' trust in their physician and physicians' knowledge of patients are leading correlates of three important outcomes of care. The results are noteworthy in the context of pervasive changes in our nation's health care system that are widely viewed as threatening to the quality of physician-patient relationships.