Background: Specialist physicians provide a large share of outpatient health care for children and adolescents in the United States, but little is known about the nature and content of these services in the ambulatory setting. Our objective was to quantify and characterize routine and co-managed pediatric healthcare as provided by specialists in community settings.
Methods: Nationally representative data were obtained from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey for the years 2002-2006. We included office based physicians (excluding family physicians, general internists and general pediatricians), and a representative sample of their patients aged 18 or less. Visits were classified into mutually exclusive categories based on the major reason for the visit, previous knowledge of the health problem, and whether the visit was the result of a referral. Primary diagnoses were classified using Expanded Diagnostic Clusters. Physician report of sharing care for the patient with another physician and frequency of reappointments were also collected.
Results: Overall, 41.3% out of about 174 million visits were for routine follow up and preventive care of patients already known to the specialist. Psychiatry, immunology and allergy, and dermatology accounted for 54.5% of all routine and preventive care visits. Attention deficit disorder, allergic rhinitis and disorders of the sebaceous glands accounted for about a third of these visits. Overall, 73.2% of all visits resulted in a return appointment with the same physician, in half of all cases as a result of a routine or preventive care visit.
Conclusion: Ambulatory office-based pediatric care provided by specialists includes a large share of non referred routine and preventive care for common problems for patients already known to the physician. It is likely that many of these services could be managed in primary care settings, lessening demand for specialists and improving coordination of care.