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The Importance of Primary Care Physicians as the Usual Source of Healthcare in the Achievement of Prevention Goals



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Am Fam Physician. 2000 Nov 1;62(9):1968.

  Related Editorial

Having a usual source of care enhances achieving clinical prevention goals for children and adults. There is room for improvement, and differences between the practices of internists and family physicians suggest that slightly longer visits and having health insurance might contribute to achieving proven prevention strategies.

The 1996 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (AHQR; formerly the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research) can be generalized to the United States. In this survey, respondents most often identified an individual generalist physician, typically a family physician, pediatrician or internist as their usual source of care.

Having any usual source of care, either a facility or an individual provider, was uniformly associated with children less than six years of age obtaining their immunizations and adults receiving preventive services during the past year:

Have usual source (%) No usual source (%)

Children:

Diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus

97

90

Polio

96

85

Measles-mumps-rubella

92

82

Hepatitis B

80

73

Adults:

Blood pressure check

83

56

Cholesterol check

51

23

Flu shot

30

13

General examination

52

28

Men: prostate examination

36

10

Women: Papanicolaou smear

60

47

Women: mammogram

51

29

Women: Any breast examination

65

46

Have usual source (%) No usual source (%)

Children:

Diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus

97

90

Polio

96

85

Measles-mumps-rubella

92

82

Hepatitis B

80

73

Adults:

Blood pressure check

83

56

Cholesterol check

51

23

Flu shot

30

13

General examination

52

28

Men: prostate examination

36

10

Women: Papanicolaou smear

60

47

Women: mammogram

51

29

Women: Any breast examination

65

46

Adults with a general internist as their usual source of care received more preventive care in 1996 than those with a family physician. This was the case for men and women:

General internist (%) Family physician (%)

Blood pressure check

90

83

Cholesterol check

66

51

Flu shot

43

30

General examination

62

50

Men: prostate examination

52

35

Women: Papanicolaou smear

60

57

Women: mammogram

60

48

Women: Any breast examination

70

63

General internist (%) Family physician (%)

Blood pressure check

90

83

Cholesterol check

66

51

Flu shot

43

30

General examination

62

50

Men: prostate examination

52

35

Women: Papanicolaou smear

60

57

Women: mammogram

60

48

Women: Any breast examination

70

63

The reasons for these differences are uncertain. Provision of preventive care may be related to time spent with patients. According to the 1996 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS), patient visits with general internists averaged 15.9 minutes, while visits with family physicians were 14.1 minutes, 13 percent shorter. Also, preventive care may be related to patients' insurance status. According to the 1996 MEPS, only 5.5 percent of adult patients for whom general internists were the usual source of care were uninsured, but 12.2 percent of patients of family physicians lacked insurance. This suggests that reducing noninsurance rates and adding a minute or two to visits might help close the gap between ideal targets for clinical preventive services and what is currently being done.


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