What Is Patient Experience?

Patient Experience Defined

Patient experience encompasses the range of interactions that patients have with the health care system, including their care from health plans, and from doctors, nurses, and staff in hospitals, physician practices, and other health care facilities. As an integral component of health care quality, patient experience includes several aspects of health care delivery that patients value highly when they seek and receive care, such as getting timely appointments, easy access to information, and good communication with health care providers.

Understanding patient experience is a key step in moving toward patient-centered care. By looking at various aspects of patient experience, one can assess the extent to which patients are receiving care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs and values. Evaluating patient experience along with other components such as effectiveness and safety of care is essential to providing a complete picture of health care quality.

Patient Experience Differs from Patient Satisfaction

The terms patient satisfaction and patient experience are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. To assess patient experience, one must find out from patients whether something that should happen in a health care setting (such as clear communication with a provider) actually happened or how often it happened.

Satisfaction, on the other hand, is about whether a patient’s expectations about a health encounter were met. Two people who receive the exact same care, but who have different expectations for how that care is supposed to be delivered, can give different satisfaction ratings because of their different expectations.

CAHPS Surveys Measure Patient Experience

While there are various ways to gather information on patient experience, CAHPS surveys have become critical tools for organizations interested in assessing the patient-centeredness of the care they deliver and identifying areas for improvement. CAHPS surveys do not ask patients how satisfied they were with their care; rather, they ask patients to report on the aspects of their experiences that are important to them and for which they are the best, and sometimes the only source of information. Because the surveys ask well-tested questions using a consistent methodology across a large sample of respondents, they generate standardized and validated measures of patient experience that providers, consumers, and others can rely on.

Relating Patient Experience to Other Quality Measures

A positive patient experience is an important goal in its own right. Moreover, substantial evidence points to a positive association between various aspects of patient experience, such as good communication between providers and patients, and several important health care processes and outcomes. These processes and outcomes include patient adherence to medical advice, better clinical outcomes, improved patient safety practices, and lower utilization of unnecessary health care services.

Some studies show no association between patient experience and clinical processes and outcomes, but this is not surprising. Many factors other than patient experience can influence processes and outcomes. This is part of the reason why combining patient experience measures with other measures of quality is critical to creating an overall picture of performance.

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Page last reviewed March 2017
Page originally created October 2016
Internet Citation: What Is Patient Experience?. Content last reviewed March 2017. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/cahps/about-cahps/patient-experience/index.html