Patient-Physician Relationship and Service Utilization: Preliminary Findings



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Background: Difficult physician-patient encounters pose a challenge in all aspects of health care. Characteristics of both physicians and patients affect the office encounter and utilization of services. The objectives of this study were to explore the impact of patients' characteristics and the patient-physician relationship on service utilization.

Method: A sample of 22 family practice patients and their physicians completed questionnaires prior to and/or after an office visit. Chart review yielded demographic information and history. The number of office visits and phone calls were obtained from billing records.

Results: The number of patient-reported physical problems was correlated with negative affect (r = 0.63, p < .002), the number of phone calls to the office (r = 0.52, p < .02), and the difficulty of the encounter as perceived by the physician (r = 0.58, p < .005). The number of phone calls also correlated with the number of life events (r = 0.43, p < .05) and the patient's perception of the physician's warmth (r = 0.48, p < .03) and understanding (r = 0.44, p < .04).

Conclusion: Life stress, negative affect, physical complaints, and the patients' perception of their physician impact utilization. Armed with information about patient characteristics prior to the office visit, the physician can increase efficiency and facilitate a more productive encounter.

Primary Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2003;5(1):15-18