How Patients and Physicians Really Feel

February 11, 2011

Findings from a pair of surveys reveal what can be done to enhance the physician-patient relationship and improve the overall patient experience.

Two surveys conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center in 2009—one polling 49,000 patients and another targeting 660 primary care physicians—yielded some surprising results regarding the physician-patient relationship.

Although a large majority of patient respondents said they were highly satisfied with their physicians, several complaints were still cited, from long waiting room times to ineffective treatments.

Both physicians and patients put a high value on courtesy and professionalism, and while physicians lamented that patients don’t take full advantage of strategies such as taking notes during their visits, patients expressed that not knowing much up front about a doctor's personality or treatment style is a significant obstacle.

Other key findings from the survey are as follows:

  • Physicians said forming a long-term relationship with a primary care physician is the most important thing a patient can do to obtain better medical care, with 76% saying it would help "very much."
  • Being respectful and courteous toward your physician was the No. 2 thing doctors said patients could do to get better care; 61% said it would help "very much." However, 70% said that since they had started practicing medicine, respect and appreciation from patients had gotten "a little" or "much" worse.
  • Patients who gave their doctors high marks for professionalism were more likely to be highly satisfied.
  • 37% of patients surveyed preferred to trust their doctor's judgment on treatment decisions.
  • Most doctors said that it was "somewhat" or "very" helpful for patients to ask them questions and occasionally question their recommendations; just 4% thought those strategies were downright unhelpful.
  • Noncompliance with advice or treatment recommendations was the top complaint doctors had about their patients, with 37% saying that it affected their ability to provide optimal care.
  • Doctors were harder on themselves than patients were when it came to judging their ability to minimize the pain, discomfort, or disability caused by a condition. Only 37% of physicians thought they were "very" effective and 60% thought they were "somewhat" effective. However, 79% of patients said their doctor helped to minimize their pain or discomfort.
  • Patients with chronic conditions were significantly more likely to complain about ineffective treatments. Just 53% said their doctor helped to minimize their pain or discomfort, and only 31% were highly satisfied with their doctor overall.
  • In terms of EMR usage, 37% of primary care physicians keep their records electronically only, compared with just 24% who did so in 2007.
  • 89% of physicians said that keeping an informal log of treatments, drugs, changes in condition, notes from previous doctor visits, and tests and procedures could be helpful. But only 33% of patients routinely did so. Likewise, 80% of doctors thought taking a friend or relative to your office visit could be beneficial, but only 28% of patients reported doing so.
  • Online research was popular among patients, as 61% reported that they had read about their condition on the Internet. However, almost half of physicians we surveyed said online research helps very little or not at all, and just 8% thought it was very helpful.
  • Physicians said the sheer volume of insurance paperwork was No. 1 on the list of things that interfere with their ability to provide optimal care, followed by financial pressures that may force the majority of primary-care providers to work more than 50 hours a week seeing more than 100 patients.
  • Finally, the majority of doctors surveyed said that pharmaceutical company representatives contacted them more than 10 times a month; 36% were contacted more than 20 times a month. On average, physicians said they spend a few hours a week dealing with pharmaceutical salespeople.
  • Patients were less satisfied when they thought their doctors relied too much on prescription drugs and were unwilling to consider nontraditional or nondrug treatments. More than one-quarter of patients indicated some level of discomfort with their doctors' inclination to prescribe drugs.

For more results and more information about the Consumer Reports survey, click here.