Variation in Specialty Outpatient Care Patterns in the Medicare Population.


Journal Article

Multiple payment reform efforts are under way to improve the value of care delivered to Medicare beneficiaries, yet few directly address the interface between primary and specialty care.To describe regional variation in outpatient visits for individual specialties and the association between specialty physician-specific payments and patient-reported satisfaction with care and health status.Retrospective cross-sectional study.A 20 % random sample of Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries in 2012.Regions were grouped into quartiles of specialist index, defined as the observed/expected regional likelihood of having an outpatient visit to a specialist, for ten common specialties, adjusting for age, sex, and race. Outcomes were per capita specialty-specific physician payments and Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey responses.The proportion of beneficiaries seeing a specialist varied the most for endocrinology and gastroenterology (3.7- and 3.9-fold difference between the highest and lowest quartiles, respectively) and least for orthopedics and urology (1.5- and 1.7-fold difference, respectively). Multiple analyses suggested that this variation was not explained by prevalence of disease. Average specialty-specific payments were strongly associated with the likelihood of visiting a specialist. Differences in per capita payments from lowest (Q1) to highest quartiles (Q4) were greatest for cardiology ($89, $135, $172, $251) and dermatology ($46, $64, $82, $124). Satisfaction with overall care (median [interquartile range] across specialties: Q1, 93.3 % [92.6-93.7 %]; Q4, 93.1 % [92.9-93.2 %]) and self-reported health status (Q1, 37.1 % [36.9-37.7 %]; Q4, 38.2 % [37.2-38.4 %]) was similar across quartiles. Satisfaction with access to specialty care was consistently lower in the lowest quartile of specialty index (Q1, 89.7 % [89.2-91.1 %]; Q4, 94.5 % [94.4-94.8 %]).Substantial regional variability in outpatient specialist visits is associated with greater payments with limited benefits in terms of patient-reported satisfaction with care or reported health status. Reducing outpatient physician visits may represent an important opportunity to improve the efficiency of care.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Clough, JD; Patel, K; Shrank, WH

Published Date

  • November 2016

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 31 / 11

Start / End Page

  • 1278 - 1286

PubMed ID

  • 27259290

Pubmed Central ID

  • 27259290

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1525-1497

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0884-8734

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1007/s11606-016-3745-8


  • eng