Background: We used the insurance claims of a representative cohort to quantify the patterns of ambulatory care visits, especially the doctor-shopping phenomenon, in Taiwan.
Methods: The ambulatory visit files of the 200,000-person cohort datasets from the National Health Insurance Research Database in 2002 were analyzed. Only a visit with physician consultation would be considered. We computed the visit patterns both by visit count and by patient count.
Results: In 2002, there were 182,474 eligible people with 2,443,003 physician consultations. During the year, 87.4% of the cohort had visited physician clinics and 57.5% had visited hospital-based outpatient or emergency departments. On average, a person had 13.4 physician consultations and consulted 3.4 specialties, 5.2 physicians, and 3.9 healthcare facilities in a year. In 2002, 17.3% of the cohort had ever visited different healthcare facilities on the same day; 23.5% had ever visited physicians of the same specialty at different healthcare facilities within 7 days and the percentage of second visits was 3.8% of all visits. Besides, 7.6% of the cohort had visited two or more specialties at the same facility on the same day, and such visits make up 2.5% of all visits.
Conclusion: The people in Taiwan did visit the physicians and outpatient departments frequently. Many patients not only consulted several physicians of different specialties and at different healthcare facilities during the year, but also switched the physicians and facilities quickly. An effective referral system with efficient data exchange between facilities might be the solution.