Physicians’ utilization of health care

Research paper by Tom J. Wachtel, Victoria L. Wilcox, Anne W. Moulton, Dominick Tammaro, Michael D. Stein

Indexed on: 01 May '95Published on: 01 May '95Published in: Journal of General Internal Medicine


OBJECTIVE: To describe how physicians attend to their own health care needs.SETTING: Rhode Island.PARTICIPANTS: A random sample of Blue Cross/Blue Shield providers. The 306 respondents (67% of 458) primarily (92%) had MD or DO degrees. The nonphysician providers were chiropractors, dentists, optometrists, and podiatrists.DESIGN: A mailed survey provided data describing the respondents’ medical conditions and utilization of formal and informal care during a three-year period. Questions asked about provider visits, physical examinations, preventive and diagnostic tests, and medication use. The respondents indicated whether services had been initiated by themselves or by another physician.MAIN RESULTS: The physicians’ overall use of formal health services was low; their number of office visits was a fourth of the national average. Two-thirds of the respondents reported having a primary care physician, and one-third had sought informal care. The respondents’ use of preventive services was high. During the three-year period, 82% of the women physicians had received a Pap test, and 81% of the women physicians over the age of 40 years had received mammography. Cholesterol levels were checked for more than two-thirds of all the respondents. Medical examinations and laboratory tests tended to be ordered by another physician, although self-prescribing was not uncommon. Furthermore, 61% of the respondents had self-prescribed at least one medication.CONCLUSIONS: Physicians’ care-seeking behavior covers a broad spectrum, ranging from self-care, to informal consultation, to formal treatment by another physician. Physicians appear to be low users of formal services overall, but high users of preventive care.