When specialists provide primary care, and why patients aren’t complaining

A study recent came out showing that specialists are providing a greater proportion of primary care services to patients.

According to the Annals of Family Medicine, “Researchers looked at more than 1 billion ambulatory visits to U.S. office-based specialists in 2002-04 and found that 46.3% of visits were for routine follow-up and preventive care of patients already known to the specialist, while referrals accounted for only 30.4% of all visits.”

That’s an important finding, since care at a specialist venue is coded at a higher rate, and thus, can increase health care costs.

I suspect, from a patient’s standpoint, having a specialist provide primary care can save a co-pay from another office visit. And in a recession, saving co-pays matter.

But, specialists shouldn’t be providing primary care in the first place, and by shielding patients from the true cost of care, that’s exactly what’s happening.