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Med Care. 1998 Jun;36(6):879-91.

Physician practice styles and patient outcomes: differences between family practice and general internal medicine.

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Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of California, Davis, Sacramento 95817, USA.



This study compared patient health status, patient satisfaction, and physician practice style between family practice and internal medicine.


New adult patients (n = 509) were prospectively and randomly assigned to family practice or internal medicine clinics at a university medical center and followed for 1 year of care. Practice styles were characterized by the Davis Observation Code. Self-reported health status (Medical Outcomes Study, Short Form-36) and patient satisfaction also were measured.


There were no significantly different changes in self-reported health status or patient satisfaction between family practice and internal medicine physicians during the course of the study. Family practice initial encounters, however, were characterized by a style placing greater relative emphasis on health behavior and counseling, whereas internists used a more technical style. Improved health status scores after treatment were predicted by a practice style emphasis on counseling, whereas improvements in patient satisfaction scores were predicted by a style of care stressing patient activation. Although this is the first known randomized trial studying this issue, the conclusions are limited by a 38% loss of patients from enrollment to care and a loss of 18% at the 1-year follow-up evaluation.


There were significant differences in practice styles between family physicians and internists; however, it was the physician's behavior, not specialty per se, that affected patient outcomes. A practice style emphasizing psychosocial aspects of care was predictive of improvements in patient health status, whereas a practice style emphasizing patient activation was predictive of improvements in patient satisfaction.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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