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Patient Satisfaction Varies by Chronic Disease, Perceived Outcomes

Eighty percent of patients with cancer reported high patient satisfaction, while only 60 percent of those with autoimmune disorders reported the same.

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Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Patient satisfaction in chronic disease management depends on the condition a patient has and patient perceptions about outcomes, according to a new survey from Health Union.

Overall, 65 percent of all patients are satisfied with their doctors, the survey of just under 4,000 chronically ill patients revealed. But when broken up by disease type, those numbers are starkly different.

For example, about 80 percent of patients with cancer reported high satisfaction levels. Cancer patients were specifically satisfied with clinician interpersonal skills, patient-centricity, and thoroughness. Patients said their healthcare providers, who were primarily oncologists for cancer patients, were good listeners and were concerned about patient mental health and wellbeing.

Conversely, patients with other chronic illnesses reported lower levels of satisfaction. For example, only six in ten patients with an autoimmune disease reported high satisfaction.

These patients were less likely to recommend their providers compared to patients with other chronic illnesses. Additionally, these patients were less likely to say their doctors were thorough, did a good job answering questions, and reviewed lab results and medications compared to their peers with other chronic illnesses.

Do these differences in patient satisfaction levels suggest that oncologists are better doctors than those treating autoimmune disease? Likely not, the survey authors said.

Instead, they possibly suggest different perceptions about treatment effectiveness.

Seven in ten cancer patients said they believe their treatments are effectively addressing their healthcare needs, while fewer than one-third of patients with an autoimmune disease said the same thing.

Additionally, patients with cancer may see more treatment benefits and options from their oncologists compared to patients with other chronic illnesses. For example, patients with cancer reported that their providers offer on-call services on the weekends and evenings.

These patients are also made more aware of the functions available over the patient portal, which can often make the patient feel more integrated into the care team. Secure messaging, access to test results, and the ability to schedule appointments digitally drive satisfaction in oncology care.

This comes even as most providers offer patient portal access. It is likely that cancer patients seeing an oncologist are specifically encouraged to use the patient portal and these other care services.

The survey also revealed the factors that are important to patients when making decisions about their treatment. Considerations about a doctor’s specialty, insurance acceptance, and credentials or certifications came out as most important to patients, with over 50 percent of patients indicating such.

Personal recommendations and services or treatments offered were less influential when a patient is selecting a doctor.

The survey also touched upon improvement areas for doctors treating patients with a chronic illness. Doctors should incorporate more cost discussions and be more transparent about treatment prices, respondents said.

Other key improvement areas include better care coordination, improved explanations about treatment and disease expectations, and clearer and more tangible pain communication.

Similar surveys have yielded similar results. A pair of 2018 surveys from PatientsLikeMe, a patient advocacy and online support group, showed that patients with fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and major depressive disorder have lower satisfaction levels than those with ALS, MS, or Parkinson’s Disease.

For example, only 47 percent of patients with fibromyalgia and PTSD reported that their providers communicated condition details adequately. Fifty-three percent of patients with MDD said the same.

These disparities may not be related to provider quality. Fibromyalgia and behavioral health issues such as PTSD and MDD are difficult to treat because they are not visible or tangible issues, the way ALS or MS can be.

And when satisfaction disparities are provider-related, they are likely because of the limited treatment options patients with fibromyalgia, PTSD, or MDD have.

“A positive or negative experience with care could be provider-related, but also related to the fact that patients living with ALS, MS and Parkinson’s often have access to condition-specific specialists or centers of excellence while those living with other conditions do not,” said PatientsLikeMe Vice President of Policy and Ethics, Sally Okun. “This makes it even more important that patients advocate on their own behalf to ensure all avenues to get good care are being used.”

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