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JABFM: “When Do Older Patients Change Primary Care Physicians?”

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James W. Mold, MD, MPH, George E. Fryer, PhD, and A. Michelle Roberts, BA

Background: Concerns have been raised about changes in the health care system that may disrupt continuity of care and thereby reduce the quality of that care. The purpose of this study was to look at the reasons that older patients give for changing primary care physicians (PCPs) and to look at relationships between the duration of the PCP-patient relationship and the perceived quality of primary care received.

Methods: We analyzed data collected during the first 2 years of a longitudinal study of primary care patients 65 years of age and older. Variables included sociodemographic characteristics, duration of relationship with current PCP, reasons for leaving last PCP, estimated numbers of visits to PCP, other clinics, and emergency departments, and admissions to hospitals and nursing homes in the last year, self-rated health, 2 measures of health-related quality of life, and the Components of Primary Care Index (CPCI).

Results: 799 patients of 23 PCPs were enrolled in year 1 of the longitudinal study, and 579 were reevaluated in year 2. The mean and median PCP-patient relationship durations were 10.27 and 8 years, respectively. Duration of the PCP-patient relationship was associated with greater patient age, income, level of education, and frequency of visits to the PCP. Longer relationship duration was also associated with higher scores on all 8 CPCI subscales. The distribution of reasons for changing PCP was associated with duration of relationship; those with a longer relationship were more likely to change involuntarily. Insurance-related reasons for changing PCP were more common in those who had changed more recently. One hundred and fourteen (14%) changed PCP during the first year of the study. Three CPCI subscale scores predicted PCP change, accumulated knowledge, communication, and family orientation. Eighty-seven percent changed involuntarily, 44% for insurance-related reasons and 40% because their doctors had moved, retJABFM- When do older patients change pcps.fullired, or died.

Conclusions: Older patients, particularly those who are older and have more education and income, tend to stay with their PCPs until they are forced to change. The longer they stay in the relationship, the better they feel about the quality of the primary services they receive. Changes in the health care system may have increased the number of patients forced to change PCP. (J Am Board Fam Pract 2004;17: 453–60.)

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SOURCE: From the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City (JWM, MR), and The Robert Graham Center, American Academy of Family Physicians, Washington DC (GEF). Address correspondence to James W. Mold, MD, MPH, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, 900 NE 10th Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73104; When Do Older Patients Change Primary Care Physicians?

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