Purpose: This article uses an interactional analysis instrument to characterize patient-centered care in the primary care setting and to examine its relationship with health care utilization.
Methods: Five hundred nine new adult patients were randomized to care by family physicians and general internists. An adaption of the Davis Observation Code was used to measure a patient-centered practice style. The main outcome measures were their use of medical services and related charges monitored over 1 year.
Results: Controlling for patient sex, age, education, income, self-reported health status, and health risk behaviors (obesity, alcohol abuse, and smoking), a higher average amount of patient-centered care recorded in visits throughout the 1-year study period was related to a significantly decreased annual number of visits for specialty care (P = .0209), less frequent hospitalizations (P = .0033), and fewer laboratory and diagnostic tests (P = .0027). Total medical charges for the 1-year study were also significantly reduced (P = .0002), as were charges for specialty care clinic visits (P = .0005), for all patients who had a greater average amount of patient-centered visits during that same time period. For female patients, the regression equation predicted 15.47% of the variation in total annual medical charges compared with male patients, for whom 31.18% of the variation was explained by the average percent of patient-centered care, controlling for sociodemographic variables, health status, and health risk behaviors.
Conclusions: Patient-centered care was associated with decreased utilization of health care services and lower total annual charges. Reduced annual medical care charges may be an important outcome of medical visits that are patient-centered.