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The Patient-Physician Relationship and Medical Utilization

Denis J. Lynch, PhD; Angele V. McGrady, PhD; Rollin W. Nagel, PhD; and Elmer F. Wahl, MD

Published: August 15, 2007

Article Abstract

Objective: The goal of this study was to (1) explore the relationship between medical utilization and characteristics of the patient-physician relationship and (2) evaluate the relationship between physician perception of patient difficulty, chronic medical problems, and patient somatizing tendencies.

Method: Patients in an academic family practice center were asked to complete a demographic data sheet, the PRIME-MD Patient Questionnaire, and the Barrett-Lennard Relationship Inventory regarding their relationship with their physicians. Their physicians completed the Difficult Doctor-Patient Relationship Questionnaire. Patient charts were examined for number of office visits and phone calls in the previous year, as well as number of chronic problems and medications. The study was conducted from September 2000 to November 2001.

Results: Forms were completed by 165 patients and 20 physicians. Forty-three patients who were approached refused to participate. Patient ratings on the Barrett-Lennard Relationship Inventory were not related to utilization measures. Physician ratings of difficulty were significantly related to phone calls and visits (p < .05), as well as PRIME-MD Patient Questionnaire somatization tendencies (p < .05) but not to number of chronic problems. Patient and physician ratings were not significantly correlated. Gender (p < .001), marital status (p < .04), education (p < .03), and employment status (p < .002) were all related to utilization measures.

Conclusion: Medical utilization was associated with somatizing tendencies of patients and the physicians’ perception of patient difficulty. Physicians rated patients as difficult if they tended to somatize but not if they had a number of chronic problems.

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