How physicians can improve patient satisfaction for individuals with chronic illness


The National Health Council defines chronic illness as any disease lasting three months or longer. Patients with these conditions build lasting relationships with their providers, as they are more likely to make multiple physician's appointments throughout the year. Some forms of chronic illness may even require weekly visits to the doctor's office, impeding the flow of a busy life.

If physicians want to improve patient satisfaction rates, they would do well to start with individuals living with chronic conditions.

Living with chronic illness

A large part of what makes chronic illness so overwhelming is the sudden and never-ending disruption of one's former life. A patient may feel fine one month and, in the next, descend into a constant state of fatigue or pain, depending on the illness.

"Roughly 40% of Americans live with chronic illness."

This disruption not only affects the patient, but also their friends and family members, causing severe strain on relationships. Loved ones may even come to resent the loss of the fun and active person they once knew. Alternatively, the patient may feel as if his or her life has been stolen away, leading to depressed and anxious thoughts.

Chronic illness can affect anyone, at any age. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, roughly 20 percent of American children live with some special health care need, whether it be a chronic illness, developmental disorder or birth defect.

The National Health Council estimated 40 percent of Americans have some form of chronic illness - that's about 133 million individuals. This represents a large portion of the population that may feel marginalized by their conditions. Improving satisfaction levels within this important group would elevate the entire healthcare industry's satisfaction rates.

What patients want from their providers

Gauging satisfaction levels by solely targeting otherwise healthy individuals - those who only visit the doctor when they are sick - cannot provide the best measure. After all, these patients rarely think about doctor's visits unless something is wrong.

Patients with chronic illness, however, have very little choice in the matter. They make frequent visits to the physician's office and therefore have more time and experience to form an opinion.

The Mighty, a blog and resource center for patients with chronic illness, asked its readers what they would most like their doctors to understand. Here are three of their responses:

  • Chronic illness triggers many emotions: It isn't unusual for patients with chronic illness to experience the stages of grief. Similarly, patients may feel fine one day and unable to function the next. There's often no pattern to how a patient feels throughout the week.
  • Fatigue is more than being tired: Fatigue is much more than feeling tired. On a bad day, patients may not be able to get out of bed, let alone drive to the doctor's office. This can be particularly difficult because a patient may show no visible signs of fatigue - frustrating their peers.
  • It takes a great effort to manage chronic illness: Managing chronic illness can be a full time job. Constantly remembering dietary restrictions, medication schedules and checking in with healthcare providers leaves little time to socialize or work.

Focusing on patient satisfaction

Physicians should consider how they can make the lives of their patients easier from an adjusted viewpoint. When a person comes in with a cold, for instance, he or she will be happy if the doctor can lessen the symptoms of the ailment. When a patient with a chronic illness visits the doctor, they want to be heard.

Asking questions, being lenient about missed appointments, providing emotional support, communicating with patient family members - these are a few avenues physicians should explore as they work to improve satisfaction among populations of patients living with chronic illness.

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