To investigate variations in accessibility, continuity of care, and coordination of services as experienced by patients in Quebec on the eve of major reforms, and to provide baseline information against which reforms could be measured.
Multilevel cross-sectional survey of practice.
One hundred primary health care settings were randomly selected in urban, suburban, rural, and remote locations in 5 health regions in Quebec.
In each clinic, we chose up to 4 physicians and 20 consecutive patients consulting each physician.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES
Patients’ responses to a self-administered questionnaire, the Primary Care Assessment Tool, that assessed patient-provider affiliation, accessibility, relational continuity, coordination of primary and specialty care, and whether patients received health promotion and preventive services.
A total of 3441 patients participated (87% acceptance rate) in 100 clinics (64% response rate). Timely access was difficult; only 10% expressed confidence they could be seen by their regular doctors within a day if they became suddenly ill. Average waiting time for a doctor’s appointment was 24 days. Coordination of care with specialists was at minimally acceptable levels. Patients with family physicians recalled them addressing only 56% of the health promotion and preventive issues appropriate for their age and sex, and patients without family physicians recalled physicians addressing substantially fewer (38%). Most patients reported they were highly confident that their physicians knew them well and would manage their care beyond clinical encounters (relational continuity). The exception was the 16% of patients overall who did not have family physicians (34% of patients at walk-in clinics).
This survey highlights serious problems with accessibility. Improvement is needed urgently to avoid deterioration of patients’ confidence in the healthsystem even though patients rate their relationships with their physician highly. Health promotion, preventive services, and coordination with specialists also needed to be improved, and careful thought must be given to the plight of those without family physicians.