Trends in Women's Health Services by Type of Physician Seen

Data from the 1985 and 1997-98 NAMCS

Published in: Women's Health Issues, v. 12, no. 4, Jul./Aug. 2002, p. 165-177

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2002

by Sarah Scholle, Judy C. Chang, Jeffrey Harman, Melissa McNeil

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As managed care enrollment has increased, controversy has arisen about the role of internists (IM), family physicians (FP), and obstetrician/gynecologists (ob/gyns) in the provision of women's health care. Efforts to improve training in women's health needs have also increased. Yet it is unclear how these trends have affected practice. The authors used the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS), a nationally representative sample of office-based medical visits, to examine by physician specialty a) trends in the proportion of visits for women's health care and b) the content of nonillness care. Between 1985 and 1997-98, market share of reproductive health services increased for IMs (e.g., from 3.7% to 10.5% of contraceptive visits, p <.05) and decreased for FPs (from 30.5% to 20.5% for contraceptive visits, p <.05). Ob/Gyns increased their share of women's health care visits, with reproductive health visits increasing from 56.2% to 65.9% (p <.0001). The trend in hormone replacement therapy visits differed, with nonsignificant gains in market share for IMs and decreases for ob/gyns. Nonillness care (1997-98 data only) differed predictably by specialty, with IMs and FPs more often providing cholesterol screening while ob/gyns more often provided reproductive health services. Compared with IMs and FPs, ob/gyns were more likely to counsel women on reproductive health topics and equally likely to counsel on general health topics, but additional time spent in counseling was lower. Specialty differences in the provision of women's health services continue, though the scope of care provided by IMs has broadened. Still, women are unlikely to obtain a full range of preventive services in a single nonillness visit. Ensuring adequate coordination among physicians providing primary care to women continues to be a critical concern.

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