From: Reuters
Published March 11, 2008 01:37 PM

Thorough physical exam a top priority for patients

By Anne Harding

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - What do patients want most from their primary care doctors? A thorough physical exam, according to a new survey from the UK.

Patients surveyed ranked comprehensive physicals above friendliness and good communication skills, while seeing a physician who knew them well was also a top priority, Dr. Peter Bower of the University of Manchester and colleagues found.

"Although patient-centered care is important to patients, they may place a higher priority on the technical quality of care and continuity of care," the researchers state.

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The findings confirm those of studies done in the US, suggesting that these patient preferences may be fairly universal, Bower told Reuters Health in an interview.

Bower and his colleagues surveyed 1,193 patients from six family practices, estimating how much people would be willing to pay for various attributes of primary care. They used two surveys, one generic and one focusing on patient-centered care.

Patients who completed the generic survey said they would be willing to pay $40.87 for a thorough physical exam, followed by $12.18 for seeing a doctor who knew them well and $8.50 for seeing a warm and friendly physician versus one with a formal and businesslike manner. Cutting appointment wait time by one day was valued at $7.22, while patients said they would pay $6.71 to have more flexible appointment times.

In the patient-centered questionnaire, seeing a doctor who knew the patient well was ranked most important, but differences among various attributes weren't as large as they were in the generic survey. Values patients placed on various aspects of care ranged from $12 to $15.

"There's something about simply knowing the doctor and having a relationship with that professional which is important even if doctors vary in the way that they deal with patients," Bower noted.

Clearly patients want the best in every aspect of care, he added, but given increasing economic constraints in medicine, compromises must be made. "We need to start looking at patient priorities," Bower said. The pricing method used in the current study, he added, could offer a good way "to look at some of these thorny areas in health services."

SOURCE: Annals of Family Medicine, March/April 2008.

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