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Defining the Patient Experience: Study Explains Why Words Matter

A recent study published in the journal Healthcare identified a set of emotion words that had consistent meanings for patients, families, and health care workers.

For the study, experts at Seattle-based Virginia Mason Medical Center surveyed 407 patients, family members, and health care staff in 2011. Participants were asked to designate 67 emotion words as either positive, negative, or neutral. At least 80 percent of participants had to agree on a word’s emotion content to be retained for the word set.

The study identified 35 words that met the 80 percent agreement threshold across groups, gender, and participant types – 20 positive, one neutral, and 14 negative.

Positive emotion words:

Compassion, confident, empowered, enjoyment, enthusiastic, grateful, great, happy, hopeful, joyful, loyal, optimistic, peaceful, pleased, safe, satisfied, secure, sense of accomplishment, successful, valued.

Negative emotion words:

Afraid, angry, disrespected, disgusted, depressed, frustrated, guilty, hatred, hopeless, ignored, insecure, jealous, resentful, sad.

Neutral emotion word:


According to the authors, hospitals can use the word set to create questionnaires that can help them redesign care delivery processes to make them more patient-centered.


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