Background: Although pediatricians and family physicians are trained in the care of children, previous studies have revealed significant differences in the medical care and specialty referral patterns each provides. During the 1990s, several developments in the population and the health care system (eg, aging of the population and increases in Medicaid managed care) may have resulted in changes to the proportion of children seeking care from one or the other specialty.
Objective: To determine any changes in the proportion of office visits for children from birth through the age of 17 years provided by pediatricians or family physicians from 1980 to 2000.
Design: Analysis of the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey data sets from 1980 to 2000. During our years of interest, the total number of visits sampled ranged from 2524 to 9151. Visits were analyzed for physician type and patient age.
Results: There have been marked changes in the proportion of office visits to general pediatricians vs family physicians during the 1990s. Overall, the percentage of all nonsurgical physician office visits for children from birth through the age of 17 years made to general pediatricians increased significantly, from 56.2% in 1990 to 64.2% in 2000 (P<.001). During the same period, the percentage of all nonsurgical physician office visits for children from birth through the age of 17 years made to family physicians declined significantly, from 33.7% in 1990 to 23.9% in 2000 (P<.001). Visits to pediatric specialists, as a proportion of all visits, increased significantly, from 1.6% in 1980 to 4.5% in 2000 (P<.001).
Conclusions: Pediatricians are providing more primary care visits for children in the United States, and this trend has accelerated during the past 5 years. These findings have implications for the cost of care, the physician workforce, and the training of future physicians. It is unknown if these changes have had a positive or negative impact on the health of our nation's children.