Background: This study's purpose was to identify patient and visit characteristics associated with the use of illness visits as opportunities for the delivery of preventive services and to determine if time is allocated differently during illness visits that make use of these opportunities.
Methods: Research nurses directly observed the delivery of preventive services during consecutive patient visits on 2 separate days in the offices of 138 family physicians. Data on patient eligibility for preventive services were collected by medical record review. Time use during patient visits was categorized using the Davis Observation Code (DOC). Patient characteristics, visit characteristics, and time use were compared during illness visits in which at least one service recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force was delivered to eligible patients, compared with illness visits during which no recommended preventive services were delivered.
Results: Preventive services were delivered during 32% of 3547 illness visits. Adults, overweight patients, those who smoke or drink alcohol, new patients, and patients with fewer visits in the past year were more likely to receive preventive services. Patient request was also associated with increased delivery of preventive services. The presence of another family member, visits for an acute illness, and the prescription of a drug were associated with a decreased likelihood of a patient's receiving preventive services. When preventive services were delivered during illness visits, less time was spent on chatting, procedures, and physical examination, and more time was spent on history-taking.
Conclusions: Family physicians take greater advantage of opportunities for the delivery of preventive services during the illness visits of high-risk patients. The results of our study suggest strategies that could be used to expand the opportunistic delivery of preventive services to other patients and types of visits.