Patients getting more face time with physicians but disparities remain, study finds

The annual face time patients spent with outpatient physicians rose from 40 to 60.4 minutes from 1979 to 2018, according to findings published June 6 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. 

Researchers from Cambridge (Mass.) Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School in Boston used the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey to analyze data on more than 1 million patient visits from 1979 to 2018. 

Three findings: 

1. The increase in annual outpatient physician face time per capita was driven by a rise in mean visit length, rather than the number of visits, researchers said. 

2. From 2005 to 2018, mean annual face time with primary care physicians fell from 33.8 to 30.4 minutes. Researchers said this decline was offset by increased time spent with specialists. Declining primary care visit rates and face time may explain worsening rates of hypertension and diabetes, since these conditions are mostly managed by primary care teams, the study said. 

3. Disparities widened for minority patients throughout the study period. From 2014 to 2018, white patients saw physicians for 70 minutes per year, relative to 52.4 minutes among Black patients and 53 minutes among Hispanic patients. The gap was mainly driven by time spent with specialists. 

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