Patient administrative burden in the US health care system

Health Serv Res. 2021 Oct;56(5):755-765. doi: 10.1111/1475-6773.13861. Epub 2021 Sep 8.


Objective: To assess the prevalence of patient administrative tasks and whether they are associated with delayed and/or foregone care.

Data source: March 2019 Health Reform Monitoring Survey.

Study design: We assess the prevalence of five common patient administrative tasks-scheduling, obtaining information, prior authorizations, resolving billing issues, and resolving premium problems-and associated administrative burden, defined as delayed and/or foregone care. Using multivariate logistic models, we examined the association of demographic characteristics with odds of doing tasks and experiencing burdens. Our outcome variables were five common types of administrative tasks as well as composite measures of any task, any delayed care, any foregone care, and any burden (combined delayed/foregone), respectively.

Data collection: We developed and administered survey questions to a nationally representative sample of insured, nonelderly adults (n = 4155).

Principal findings: The survey completion rate was 62%. Seventy-three percent of respondents reported performing at least one administrative task in the past year. About one in three task-doers, or 24.4% of respondents overall, reported delayed or foregone care due to an administrative task: Adjusted for demographics, disability status had the strongest association with administrative tasks (adjusted odds ratio [OR] 2.91, p < 0.001) and burden (adjusted OR 1.66, p < 0.001). Being a woman was associated with doing administrative tasks (adjusted OR 2.19, p < 0.001). Being a college graduate was associated with performing an administrative task (adjusted OR 2.79, p < 0.001), while higher income was associated with fewer subsequent burdens (adjusted OR 0.55, p < 0.01).

Conclusions: Patients frequently do administrative tasks that can create burdens resulting in delayed/foregone care. The prevalence of delayed/foregone care due to administrative tasks is comparable to similar estimates of cost-related barriers to care. Demographic disparities in burden warrant further attention. Enhancing measurement of patient administrative work and associated burdens may identify opportunities for assessing quality, value, and patient experience.

Keywords: access/demand/utilization of services; health care costs; patient assessment/satisfaction; survey research and questionnaire design.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Appointments and Schedules
  • Consumer Health Informatics / economics
  • Consumer Health Informatics / statistics & numerical data
  • Cost Sharing / economics
  • Cost Sharing / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Health Services Administration*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Information Seeking Behavior
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Patients / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prior Authorization / economics
  • Prior Authorization / statistics & numerical data
  • Sociodemographic Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Time-to-Treatment
  • Young Adult