Background: Continuity of the relationship between patients and primary care providers (PCPs) is an important component of care from the consumer perspective that may be affected by variation in cost containment strategies within managed care.
Objective: To evaluate the effects of cost containment strategies on the continuity of the relationship between their patients with depression and their PCPs.
Design: Observational analysis of a 2-year panel of depressed patients who participated in a quality improvement intervention trial in 46 managed care practices.
Participants: One thousand two hundred four patients with current depression who enrolled in a longitudinal study, completed the baseline survey, and were followed for 2 years.
Main measures: The dependent variable is probability of continuing the relationship between patients and their PCPs; explanatory variables include individual patient mental health benefits and cost-sharing, individual provider financial incentives, supply-side managed care policies, and patient ratings of the care received.
Results: The average duration of the patient-PCP relationship was significantly longer among depressed patients who initially had less generous benefits for specialty care (higher copays, P = 0.02 and fewer visits covered, P = 0.002) and for patients whose PCPs received a performance-based salary bonus from a risk pool (P = 0.07).
Conclusions: For depressed patients, cost containment strategies, such as limits on specialty benefits and presence of clinician bonus payments typically used within managed care may increase, rather than decrease, PCP continuity. Whether increased PCP continuity is a desirable outcome depends on whether health care systems can provide high quality primary care and this merits further study.