Background: The environment in which medicine is practiced has changed in the past 2 decades, but little information has been available on how the day-to-day practice of primary care for children has changed during this period.
Objective: To identify aspects of primary care practices for children that are undergoing substantial changes.
Design: Analysis of National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys from 1979 to 1981, 1985, and 1989 to 1994.
Participants: Primary care practitioners recorded data on 58,488 child visits. MAIN OUT COME MEASURES: Characteristics and insurance status of children, physician activities during visits, and disposition after visit.
Results: Child visits to primary care physicians increased by 22% between 1979 and 1994. The mean age of children visiting primary care physicians decreased from 6.7 years in 1979 to 5.7 years in 1994 (P for trend, < .001). The ethnic diversity of child visits increased primarily as a result of an increasing proportion of visits by Hispanic (6.0% in 1979 to 12.6% in 1994, P for trend, < .001) and Asian patients (1.6% in 1979 to 4.1% in 1994, P for trend, < .001). Medicaid and managed care increased dramatically as sources of payment. Changes in physician activities included an increase in some preventive services, changes in the most commonly encountered medications, and an increased mean duration of patient visits (11.8 minutes in 1979 to 14.2 minutes in 1994, P for trend, < .001).
Conclusions: These data may assist in the development of educational and research initiatives for physicians caring for children. The declining proportion of adolescent visits may present physicians with challenges in the care of adolescents. Physician prescribing practices showed changes without evidence of a benefit to child health. The increased ethnic diversity and provision of preventive services were associated with an increased mean duration of primary care visits. The increased duration of child visits may conflict with the managed care emphasis on physician productivity.