Background: This study applies the concept of economic efficiency to primary health care physicians. Comparisons of charges made by family physicians and general internists would provide evidence of "optimal" health care delivery of primary care services.
Methods: A list of all active licensed primary care physicians was obtained from the office of the Oregon State Board of Medical Examiners. Two thousand eight hundred forty-three questionnaires were sent to Oregon primary care physicians. Of the 1365 responses, 484 were family physicians and 341 were general internists.
Results: The study found that family physicians had significantly lower mean office visit fees than general internists, while both groups had essentially similar patient mixes. This difference in fees could not be explained by patient case mix.
Conclusions: The findings of this study and the body of literature available support the concept that family practice physicians provide economically efficient primary health care. If two similarly trained physicians provide a comparable level of medical care, with the same or similar outcome (or output), the physician who provides the care for the lowest cost should be used.