Patients’ perceptions of healthcare vary over time and by setting, and previous studies have rarely focused on these factors. We aimed to measure patients’ perceptions of hospital care in China and to examine how patients’ perceptions of hospital care vary by hospital characteristics (differences in setting) and previous hospitalization-related experiences (changes with time). We conducted a national cross-sectional survey of 7267 inpatients between July 2014 and April 2015 in China. Hospital characteristics measured were hospital technical level, hospital type, teaching status, and the ratio of doctors/nurses to ward beds. Previous hospitalization-related experiences measured were current admission length, number of previous admissions, and hospital selection (hospital advertisements or personal recommendations). Patients’ perceptions of hospital care included perceptions of doctors, nurses, and hospital organization. Scores were highest for perceptions of nurses, followed by perceptions of doctors, and hospital organization. Of the five hospital characteristics rated, the technical level was most strongly associated with patient perceptions of healthcare. The effect of hospital admission length and frequency of hospitalization on patients’ perceptions was represented by a √-shaped dose–response curve (scores were initially high, then decreased, then rebounded to higher than the initial scores). Patients who selected a hospital with hospital advertisements gave lower scores than those without hospital advertisements, and patients who selected a hospital with personal recommendations gave higher scores than those without If the observed √-shaped dose–response curves indicate a causal relationship between patients’ perceptions and hospital admission length or frequency of hospitalization, this may help to guide the timing of patient satisfaction assessments. The negative association between patient perception and advertising, and the positive association with personal recommendations (word-of-mouth) and hospital technical level, could provide important information for clinicians and hospital administrators.
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