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New UC Davis study finds physician style and HMO affiliation impact lengths of patient visit
Date:12/5/2007

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- Apart from a more complicated medical case, what makes different physicians spend different amounts of time with their patients" Researchers at UC Davis have identified several key doctor- and practice-specific characteristics that affect the length of a patients medical appointment, and ultimately with a patients satisfaction with the doctors visit.

In a new study, "Primary Care Visit Length, Quality, and Satisfaction for Standardized Patients with Depression" in the December 2007 issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Estella Geraghty and her colleagues found several key determinants for visit length, ranging from individual style and practice volume to whether a physician practiced within a health maintenance organization (HMO) or whether the doctor had any nonprofessional experience with depression.

Identifying the key predictors that drive the length of doctor visits has long remained elusive, despite much effort by researchers. Using what are called "standardized patients" -- actors who have been carefully coached to simulate specific patient ailments -- Geraghty and her team were able to control patient presentations and more accurately gauge physician practices.

Researchers found that visit length for patients with similar conditions varied more than 10-fold among primary care physicians, with much of the variation attributed to individual physician styles. Doctors working in HMOs and those with the busiest schedules, for example, spent significantly less time with patients. Physicians with personal or vicarious experience with depression, however, spent more time with their patients. They spent as much as 11 percent more time with depressed patients than doctors who did not have that connection with the ailment.

The study found that despite using standardized patients to control for variability in cases, visit times still ranged significantly, from about six minutes to more t
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Contact: Charles Casey
charles.casey@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu
916-734-9048
University of California - Davis - Health System
Source:Eurekalert

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