Objective: The study describes the prevalence of medical nursing home practice. Further, it examines the extent to which physician characteristics and local county health care resources predict nursing home involvement. This information is relevant to evaluating and devising strategies that address the future provision of medical care in institutionalized long-term care.
Design: A cross-sectional survey.
Setting: A national sample of all licensed practicing physicians was obtained from a special Professional Activities (PPA) survey conducted by the American Medical Association (AMA) in 1991.
Participants: Respondents were 21,578 physicians involved in direct patient care.
Measures: The typical number of hours spent weekly caring for nursing home patients was obtained from the PPA survey, and physician demographics were obtained from the AMA Masterfile. County health care resources were obtained from the National Institutes of Health Area Resources File.
Results: Most (77%) physicians reported spending no measurable time caring for nursing home patients. In all disciplines, a majority of physicians with a nursing home practice spent less than 2 hours per week with patients. Logistic regressions indicted that family practitioners and internists were most likely to have a nursing home practice, but general practitioners were most likely to spend more time in practice. Only 15% of specialists reported having a nursing home practice. Prevalence of practice was greatest among solo practitioners and physicians in partnerships and least among academic and hospital-based physicians and physicians in group practice or employed by the government. Most county of practice resources were not associated or were modestly associated with nursing home practice, but having a nursing home practice became much more likely as the number of nursing home residents increased and hospital beds decreased. A pattern was found for nursing home practice to be slightly less likely as the county's per capita income and the proportion of proprietary nursing facilities increased.
Conclusions: With increasing numbers of older and frailer residents, nursing homes will continue to be integral components of the future healthcare system. However, physicians currently spend minimal time caring for nursing home patients, with physician characteristics best predicting involvement. Questions remain about the future of nursing home medical practice and how to best recruit, staff, and train future cadres of physicians to provide sufficient quality care for nursing home patients in an evolving health care system.