Background: The growth of managed health care in the United States has been accompanied by controls on access to specialty physician services. We examined the relationship of physician specialty to treatment and outcomes of patients with asthma in managed care plans.
Methods: We conducted a mail survey of adult asthma patients who were enrolled in 12 managed care organizations and had at least 2 contacts for asthma (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification code 493.x) during the previous 24 months; we also surveyed their treating physicians. This report concerns 1954 patients and their 1078 corresponding physicians. Treatment indicators included use of corticosteroid inhalers, use of peak flow meters, allergy evaluation, discussion of triggers, and patient self-management knowledge. Outcome measures included canceled activities, hospitalization or emergency department visits, asthma attacks, workdays lost, asthma symptoms, physical and mental health, overall satisfaction with asthma care, and satisfaction with communication with physicians and nurses.
Results: Significant differences were noted for patients of specialists and experienced generalists compared with those of generalist physicians. Peak flow meter possession was reported by 41.9% of patients of generalists, 51.7% of patients of experienced generalists, and 53.8% of patients of pulmonologists or allergists. Compared with patients of generalists, outcomes were significantly better for patients of allergists with regard to canceled activities, hospitalizations and emergency department visits for asthma, quality of care ratings, and physical functioning. Patients of pulmonologists were more likely to rate improvement in symptoms as very good or excellent.
Conclusions: In a managed health care setting, physicians' specialty training and self-reported expertise in treating asthma were related to better patient-reported care and outcomes.