When patients need to visit a physician for primary care services a surprisingly high number is turning to specialists instead of primary care physicians (PCP). This is a trend which has been going on since 1999, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
The research letter “Visits for Primary Care Services to Primary Care and Specialty Care Physicians, 1999 and 2007” compared data from both years to examine changes in the frequency with which patients visited generalists and specialists for primary care services.
Overall, more than 40% of patient visits in both 1999 (41%) and 2007 (41.2%) were to specialty physicians
Breaking down visits into ones for common symptoms and diseases, and preventive examinations shows that for the latter, patients are more likely to visit PCPs. Preventive examination visits to PCPs increased from 66.3% in 1999 to 71.2% in 2007, and declined for specialty physicians from 33.8% to 28.8%.
However, for visits related to common symptoms and diseases, there was no change. Patients visited PCPs for 58.1% of visits in 1999 and 57.2% in 2007, and 41.9% and 42.8%, respectively, of the visits went to specialty physicians. Common symptoms and diseases were things such as fever, nasal congestion, anemia and asthma.
According to the researchers, a shortage of PCPs may be driving patients toward specialists; however, it could also be the perception that specialists can provide better care.
The researchers used data from the National Ambulatory Medicare Care Survey.