Access to US Primary Care Physicians for New Patients Concerned About Smoking or Weight
Tobacco smoking and obesity are leading causes of preventable morbidity and mortality in the US, and primary care physicians are the main source of preventive care. However, it is not known whether access for new patients is affected by an expression of interest in preventive care. In a 2015 audit, we called US primary care physicians' offices to request appointment information regarding new patient physicals for simulated patients. Simulated patients were differentiated by smoking concerns (Nâ€¯=â€¯907), weight concerns (Nâ€¯=â€¯867), or no health concerns ("healthy" patients; Nâ€¯=â€¯3561). Additionally, patient profiles varied by race/ethnicity, sex, and insurance type. We also examined whether access differed in states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. We found that physicians' offices were no more likely to offer appointments to patients with smoking concerns than to healthy patients (54% vs. 55%; p-valueâ€¯=â€¯0.56), and patients with smoking concerns were offered fewer appointments than patients with weight concerns (54% vs. 62%, p-valueâ€¯<â€¯0.01). In analyses adjusted for covariates, smoking concerns did not improve appointment offers for any patient group, and reduced Medicare patients' offers in Medicaid expansion states by 9 percentage points relative to healthy patients (95% CI: -16, -2). Health concerns did not statistically significantly affect waits-to-appointment. Our results suggest that patients with smoking concerns are no more likely to be offered new patient appointments than those with no health concerns. The greater likelihood of appointment offers for some patients with weight concerns is encouraging for obesity prevention and management.
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Tinkler, S. E., Sharma, R. L., Susu-Mago, R. R., Pal, S., & Stano, M. (2018). Access to US primary care physicians for new patients concerned about smoking or weight. Preventive medicine, 113:51-56.