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J Gen Intern Med. 2006 Feb;21(2):130-3. Epub 2005 Dec 7.

Patient and physician perceptions of timely access to care.

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Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, CO, USA.



Timeliness of care is 1 of 6 dimensions of quality identified in Crossing the Quality Chasm. We compared patient and physician perceptions of appropriate timing of visits for common medical problems.


This study was conducted at 2 internal medicine clinics at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Adult patients and companions, and outpatient General Internists were surveyed. The survey contained 11 clinical scenarios of varying urgency. Respondents indicated how soon the patient in each scenario should be seen. Responses ranged from that day to 1 to 3 months. Responses were analyzed using the Mann-Whitney U test.


Two hundred and sixty-two patients and 46 of 61 physicians responded. For 8 of the 11 scenarios patients felt they should be seen significantly earlier than physicians. Scenarios involving chronic knee and stomach pain, routine diabetes care, and hyperlipidemia generated the greatest differences. Patients and physicians agreed on the urgency of scenarios concerning wheezing in an asthmatic, an ankle injury, and acute pharyngitis.


Patients expected to be seen sooner than physicians thought necessary for many common chronic medical conditions, but are in agreement about timeliness for some acute problems. Understanding patient expectations may help physicians respond to requests for urgent evaluation of chronic conditions.

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