Recent shifts in reimbursement toward capitation makes appointment availability a significant resource and stimulates us to understand primary care physician (hereafter referred to as "provider") behavior concerning appointment assignment. The results of prior studies suggest significant provider variability in this area.
To examine the influences on assigning patient revisit intervals in the ambulatory setting.
Survey regarding general care issues of hypothetical diabetic and hypertensive patients seen in an ambulatory setting was given to 62 providers in the Internal Medicine Program at the Tulane University Internal Medicine Residency Program and outpatient clinics, New Orleans, La. Measurements evaluated included survey responses for demographics (sex, year of birth, year of graduation from medical school, and level of training) and practice style (decision to change therapy, order tests, and recommended return appointment interval in weeks) variables.
The response rate was 89% (56 providers). Most respondents were men (n = 39). Wide variation was noted in assignment of reappointment interval with mean return intervals for the scenarios ranging from 2.2 to 20.5 weeks. Significant influences on provider practice included patient stability (P<.001), the decision to change therapy (P = .001), and the decision to order tests (P = .001). All correlated with an earlier return appointment. Some providers exhibited test-ordering tendencies across scenarios. Sex was a significant provider independent variable and was not influenced by other study variables. Female providers assigned earlier reappointment intervals for their patients.
Wide variation exists among practitioners with similar training background and practice setting. As expected, patient stability was a major determinant of assigned return interval. Test-ordering behaviors may consume appointments inappropriately and may be a productive area for efforts to reduce provider variability. The influence of the provider's sex on scheduling follow-up appointments warrants further investigation.