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Why People Change Their Health Care Providers
Data Bulletin No. 16
atients ability to be treated by the same health care provider is often considered a key aspect in the delivery of quality medical care. In recent years, managed care and other changes in the health care market, including some plans changing the provider panels, have led to widespread reports of patients switching their regular providers. This, in turn, has fueled concerns that continuity of care has been impaired. However, health plans are not the only reason why people change providers. Providers retire, patients and their families move or a patient may want a more convenient provider.
Recent surveys by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) show that 13 percent of people with a usual source of care changed providers last year. Nationwide, 85 percent of people identify a doctor, nurse, another health professional or a specific place other than a hospital emergency room as their usual source of care.
Reasons for Changing Health Care Providers
Over two-fifths of those who changed their usual health care provider did so because of personal preferences, such as the desire to obtain better quality care (see Figure 1). Slightly more than 20 percent cited changes in their health insurance as the reason for switching-for example, they or their employer changed plans. The rest, nearly 40 percent, gave other reasons, such as physician retirement.
Source: Community Tracking Study Household Survey, 1998-1999
Role of Insurance and Plan Type
Among people with a usual source of care, 13 percent of those who were privately insured changed providers in the past year, compared with 11 percent for those with Medicare coverage or who were uninsured. More than 14 percent of people in health maintenance organizations (HMOs) changed their usual source of care, while only slightly more than 11 percent of the insured who are not in HMOs did so. Those in HMOs were nearly twice as likely as those who were not to indicate that their health insurance was the reason they changed health care providers (see Figure 2).
Significantly different from those in HMOs at p<.05.
Rate of Changing Providers Is Stable
Anecdotal evidence suggests that changes in the health care market may have caused increases in the rate at which people have changed providers in recent years. However, HSC data show that the rate of changing providers remained the same-13 percent-during two different survey periods (1996-1997 and 1998-1999).
At the same time, there are changes in the reasons people give for switching providers. In particular, people are less likely to identify health insurance as the reason than they were two years ago (see Figure 3).