Patients Report Better Satisfaction with Part-Time Primary Care Physicians, Despite Less Continuity of Care and Access

Abstract

The growing number of primary care physicians (PCPs) reducing their clinical work hours has raised concerns about meeting the future demand for services and fulfilling the continuity and access mandates for patient-centered care. However, the patient’s experience of care with part-time physicians is relatively unknown, and may be mediated by continuity and access to care outcomes. We aimed to examine the relationships between a physicians’ clinical full-time equivalent (FTE), continuity of care, access to care, and patient satisfaction with the physician. We used a multi-level structural equation estimation, with continuity and access modeled as mediators, for a cross-section in 2010. The study included family medicine (n = 104) and internal medicine (n = 101) physicians in a multi-specialty group practice, along with their patient satisfaction survey responses (n = 12,688). Physician level FTE, continuity of care received by patients, continuity of care provided by physician, and a Press Ganey patient satisfaction with the physician score, on a 0–100 % scale, were measured. Access to care was measured as days to the third next-available appointment. Physician FTE was directly associated with better continuity of care received (0.172 % per FTE, p < 0.001), better continuity of care provided (0.108 % per FTE, p < 0.001), and better access to care (−0.033 days per FTE, p < 0.01), but worse patient satisfaction scores (−0.080 % per FTE, p = 0.03). The continuity of care provided was a significant mediator (0.016 % per FTE, p < 0.01) of the relationship between FTE and patient satisfaction; but overall, reduced clinical work hours were associated with better patient satisfaction (−0.053 % per FTE, p = 0.03). These results suggest that PCPs who choose to work fewer clinical hours may have worse continuity and access, but they may provide a better patient experience. Physician workforce planning should consider these care attributes when considering the role of part-time PCPs in practice redesign efforts and initiatives to meet the demand for primary care services.

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