Objective. Patients are uniquely positioned to provide insightful comments about their care. Currently, a lack of comparable patient experience data prevents the emergence of a detailed picture of patients' experiences in Australian hospitals. The present study addresses this gap by identifying factors reported in primary research as relating to positive and negative experiences of patients in Australian hospitals. Methods. Evidence from Australian qualitative studies of patients of all ages reporting their experiences in any hospital or day procedure centre was synthesised. A range of text words, synonyms and subject headings was developed and used to undertake a systematic search of seven electronic databases from January 1995 to July 2015 and the grey literature. Two reviewers independently screened the titles, abstracts or executive summaries and applied the inclusion criteria. Data were synthesised in a meta-narrative. Results. Thirty-nine publications were included: 33 articles from database searches and six from the grey literature. Quality improvement researchers produced the dominant narrative and the nursing perspective was strong. Six themes emerged: 'Reciprocal communication and information sharing', 'Interpersonal skills and professionalism', 'The care environment', 'Emotional support', 'Discharge planning and process' and 'Correct treatment and physical outcomes'. Conclusion. Tangible opportunities to enhance the patient experience are apparent. Small changes to the way that the health system operates and is resourced and the way that health professionals engage with patients could substantially improve care. Examples include inviting patients and carers to contribute to decision making and discussions about their treatment options and care preferences.
What is known about the topic? Patient experience is identified as a key component of an optimal health system, along with improving the health of populations and reducing the per capita costs of care. The use of patient experience data has been associated with improved clinical effectiveness and patient safety. What does this paper add? Patient experience data are currently not routinely captured and difficulties exist as to where this information is available. These data are gathered using a variety of different methods that prohibit the development of a national picture. As a step towards overcoming this barrier, the present study identifies the common elements of healthcare experience reported by patients in Australia as being positive or negative. What are the implications for practitioners' Ensuring that patients and carers are active partners in their care is at the centre of a positive patient experience. Health professionals should provide patients with opportunities to make decisions about their care and ask questions, and to provide clear information before, during and after hospitalisation to enhance patients' experiences in Australian hospitals.